Nagoya Grampus hosted Gamba Osaka in a Nabisco Cup Quarter Final Second Leg yesterday in the teeming rain at Paloma Mizuho Stadium. The teams had fought out a 1-1 draw in Osaka so all was to play for in the return fixture, with a place in the semi-finals at stake.
Grampus took an early lead through Ryunosuke Noda, who had scored for Nagoya in the first leg. Noda capitalized on a mistake at the back from Gamba and also had a huge slice of luck when his attempted pass in the box came back into his run leaving him an easy finish to the center of the goal.
From then on Gamba enjoyed the lion's share of possession and except for an outstanding display by ex-national team keeper Seigo Narazaki, would surely have been well ahead at half-time. As it was Hiroyuki Abe's 41st minute goal sent the teams in all square at the break from a Yasuhito Endo assist, as a huge downpour sent the 8,000 strong crowd hurrying for what cover there was at the Paloma.
Gamba controlled most of the second half and it seemed only a matter of time before they scored again. That there were no further goals for Osaka in normal time was entirely due to the 39 year-old Narazaki's heroics.
Just four minutes into extra time defender Keisuke Iwashita finally beat Japan's 2002 World Cup keeper when he headed Gamba ahead from a corner from Endo aka the "Japanese Pirlo." The game now seemed up for the hosts as the torrential rain continued to fall in bucket loads.
In desperation Nagoya reverted to their tried and trusted plan B which is to hoist it long to the head of the feisty Marcus Tulio Tanaka marauding up from the back. This tactic duly delivered and from then on until the end of extra time it was the hosts who pressed for and seemed more likely to grab a winner in front of their karaoke-singing fans.
The turning point in the match was the decision of ex-Gamba coach Akira Nishino to go all Louis van Gaal at World Cup 2014 and substitute the excellent Narazaki in goal for the portly 86kg Yoshinari Takagi as the match went to penalties.
The hapless Takagi never looked like saving a spot-kick as the shoot-out progressed to 9-9 with each side having missed one penalty (Yano blasting over for Grampus and Iwashita hitting the post for Gamba).
Thus it came down to the keepers. The rotund Takagi predictably slammed his shot against the bar while his opposite number Yosuke Fujigaya kept his nerve and duly converted to send Gamba into the semis where they will face Albirex Niigata, who knocked out Urawa Reds 5-3 over the two legs.