Cosmin Contra’s perfect start to life as head coach of Guangzhou R&F continued on Tuesday evening as the Cantonese side began their 2015 AFC Champions League campaign with an impressive 2-0 away win at Japanese treble winners Gamba Osaka.
ACL Group F
Gamba Osaka 0
Guangzhou R&F 2
Abderrazak Hamdallah 10′, Wang Song 80′
Set up to hit their hosts on the counter attack, R&F’s individual quality in attacking areas once more shone through as a goal in each half from Moroccan Abderrazak Hamdallah and new signing Wang Song secured success against the side expected to be their strongest group stage rivals.
R&F will acknowledge they were on the back-foot for much of the game but having taken a swift lead they showed impressive defensive organisation to limit Gamba to few major chances. When the Japanese did find sight of goal, they encountered Liu Dianzuo in inspired form for the visitors.
Contra named an unchanged eleven from that which overcame Central Coast Mariners last week and was rewarded with a dream start, taking the lead after just 10 minutes through the dangerous Hamdallah.
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) February 24, 2015
Picking the ball up outside the area and running directly at the retreating defence, the Moroccan left his opponents in disarray as he turned inside and out before firing low past goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi from a narrow angle.
Gamba reacted well with both Takashi Usami and then Hiroyuki Abe testing Liu in the R&F net prior to the interval, while the goalkeeper was also quick off his line to deny Brazilian Patric as the visitors remained resolute in the face of Japanese pressure to lead at half-time.
The pressure continued early in the second period with veteran Gamba captain testing Liu from range before the goalkeeper was once more called into action to save from a Patric header.
R&F were not to be denied their victory, though, and made sure of success thanks to a large stroke of luck. Wang Song may be a free-kick specialist, but the R&F new-boy cannot deny he was fortunate in seeing his late effort deflect off Patric in the Gamba wall to leave Higashiguchi wrong footed.
Gamba will doubtless feel hard done-by given their dominance of possession and chances on the night, but for R&F it was another demonstration of the danger they pose to sides in the competition.
With Hamdallah and his support cast showing the same eye for goal they demonstrated throughout 2014, they have the potential to threaten any side as long as their Park Jong-Woo shielded defence stays strong. Gamba will be one of the toughest sides they will face in the competition and, in claiming an away win at the succinctly named Expo ’70 Commemorative Stadium, they have laid a fantastic platform for a strong campaign in the competition.
Improvements must still be made, with Contra doubtless keen for his side to impose more against some of the less highly-rated opposition to come. Yet, R&F are already making waves at the start of their debut Champions League campaign and will be delighted with results to date.
Any doubts as to how the side would react following a disruptive off-season that saw manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and key midfielder Davi depart for Shanghai have been put to rest for now.
The question for fans is whether such form is sustainable throughout the league season given the side’s relatively small first-team squad. Should they go far in the Champions League, however, most fans at the Yuexiushan will care little.
Gamba Osaka: Higashiguchi, Iwashita, Yonekura, Niwa, Fujiharu, Endo, Ogura (Kurata 46’), Omori (Akamine 82’), Abe (Lins 67’), Usami, Patric.
Guangzhou R&F: Liu Dianzuo; Tang Miao, Jang Hyun-Soo, Zhang Yaokun, Jiang Zhipeng; Park Jong-Woo, Michel (Jin Yangyang 89’), Lu Lin (Chang Feiya 61’); Jiang Ning (Li Yan 77’), Wang Song, Hamdallah.
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