Jiangsu maintained a perfect record in the ACL and look imperious at the top of Group H following a resilient but oftentimes precarious 1-0 win over Gamba Osaka.
While the home side energized proceedings by nobly harrying for a second half equalizer, in truth, it was a wet and unconvincing game of football that will be remembered solely for the sudden, swaggering moment of class with which Ramires emphatically snatched all three points.
AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUP H
Gamba Osaka 0
Jiangsu Suning 1
Jiangsu offered up 1,500 free tickets to travelling supporters, but those who made the long journey to Japan needn’t have looked beyond the canopy of their umbrellas prior to Ramires’ interjection.
The goal came as Teixeira reached a hopeful ball forward and smartly held up play as his teammates ran up field. Receiving the ball outside the area, Ramires offered Ji Xiang the chance to penetrate Osaka’s defense, but failing to do so, the forward returned the ball to the Brazilian who bent an assured left footed shot beyond the reach of Ryota Suzuki.
On a slick pitch ill-suited for excessive passing, Jiangsu arranged a stubborn block of five in front of Zhang Sipeng and challenged the home side to break it down. As Choi Yong-soo intimated prior to the game, a draw would have sufficed following wins over Adelaide United FC and Jeju United, the same could not be said for Osaka, especially following its 4-1 battering at Jeju United in the previous match.
Throughout the first half, Osaka was only too glad to oblige Jiangsu’s retreat and, in ageless veterans Yasuyuki Konno and Yasuhito Endo, theoretically had the players to seek out opposition frailties. In practice, however, each advance into enemy territory provoked a swarm of yellow shirts that harried and stifled danger. Ramires looked to surge forward with every opportunity and Wu Xi played a capable assistant.
The game further emphasized the fact that Teixeira, suspended from Friday’s drab draw against Tianjin TEDA, is imperative to the attacking functionality the of Nanjing side, particularly when it wishes to play on the counterattack.
Osaka has as their attacking fulcrum an altogether different type of forward; Shun Nagasawa, a tall, lurking specimen of a player whose rich early season has led to whispers of a national team call up. Yet the 28-year-old forward enjoyed a frustrated night, in spite of the recurrent irritation he proved from set pieces he never truly seemed to intimidate Jiangsu’s back three of Li Ang, Zhou Yun, and Hong Jeong-Ho.
The match picked up momentum in the final 20 minutes as the home side sought a leveler and looked like breaking through the right hand side of Jiangsu’s defense until the introduction of Yang Boyu’s fresh legs.
If Jiangsu’s first half performance was a sterling example of measured counter attacking football, its display in the second exhibited all the pitfalls of a side sitting too deep and inviting pressure.
Indeed, for much of the final 30 minutes Jiangsu did little more than pray for the hastening of the clock as they invited waves of Osaka attacks with the predictability of a training exercise. The side certainly owes some gratitude to Zhang, whose commanding performance in-goal made up for the number of times the home side was allowed to deliver dangerous crosses.
Fortunately, the home team’s finishing left much to be desired with Konno and Ademilson particularly guilty culprits. Likewise, when Wu Xi and Teixeira had glorious opportunities to capitalize on a stretched opposition midfield and put the game beyond the reach of Osaka they failed to score.
While Choi will undoubtedly be pleased by Jiangsu’s game plan execution and the position it now holds Group H, he will no doubt be puzzled by the drastic contrast between confident continental Jiangsu and its blunt bumbling domestic version.