Coach Kenta Hasegawa and captain Yasuhito Endo have played down the absence of leading scorer Takashi Usami ahead of Gamba Osaka’s AFC Champions League quarter-final second leg with fellow former winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors from Korea Republic on Wednesday.
Japanese treble winners Gamba are seeking a return to the semi-finals for the first time since lifting the continental title in 2008 and are unbeaten in their last seven AFC Champions League outings following last month’s goalless first leg draw at Jeonju World Cup Stadium.
But Gamba will be without Japan international Usami, who is the 2008 winners’ leading scorer in this season’s AFC Champions League with four goals, for the return fixture at Expo ’70 Commemorative Stadium after the 23-year-old picked up a yellow card in the second half at Jeonju World Cup Stadium and will be forced to watch from the stands on Wednesday.
“I won’t know until we play, but obviously he is one of the main scorers. But then since he will not be around, it might confuse Jeonbuk who to mark and that might lead to breaking the opponent’s balance,” said Hasegawa, who saw Usami score twice on Saturday as Gamba recorded a 2-1 win over Kashima Antlers in the J.League.
“Also, the rest of the team has enough strength to show a powerful game, so I am quite positive we have enough strength to win this match.”
Usami scored twice in the first leg of the Round of 16 success over Korea’s FC Seoul at the end of May having also netted against K-League Classic side Seongnam FC and China’s Guangzhou R&F as Gamba recovered from a slow start to eventually win Group F.
“He will be missed obviously since he scores a lot and is a big danger to the away team,” said 2008 AFC Champions League winner Endo.
“But whoever is on the pitch, we need to win so we will do our best and cover what we can do as a team.”
Hasegawa’s side are boosted by the return of Yasuyuki Konno from suspension and the defender is set to play at Expo ’70 Commemorative Stadium having featured in Gamba’s recent domestic outings, despite Tomokazu Myojin successfully filling in during the first leg.
“We all know how good he is, but the player who replaced him played well too. When Konno is back, he will bring out his good play on the pitch, but we don’t know who will play for the second leg,” added Endo.
“I just believe that whoever is going to be selected will bring out the best performance and will exert a good influence onto the team.”
Kotaro Omori, though, is set to miss the return fixture due to a knee injury picked up against Nagoya Grampus in the Nabisco Cup earlier this month having started the first leg against Jeonbuk.
Opponents Jeonbuk were also in domestic action at the weekend as Choi Kang-hee’s K-League Classic champions beat FC Seoul 3-0 on Saturday thanks to goals from Lee Dong-gook, Lee Jae-sung and Brazilian Leonardo.
“We had hoped to win the home match, but it was sad to draw 0-0. We were aware that Gamba has a strong offence so we tried to win without conceding a goal, but we couldn’t,” said Choi having led Jeonbuk to the AFC Champions League title in 2006 as well as the 2011 final.
“We could find satisfactory things and disappointing things together in the first leg, but we still have 90 minutes left, therefore we can achieve a good result.
“The second leg will be held at Gamba’s home so there will also be many disadvantages for us.
“We drew the first leg so we must score the first goal. The game will change depending on which team scores the first goal.”
Also on Wednesday, Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates will look to build on a slender one-goal advantage against Iran’s Naft Tehran in Dubai.
Brazilian Rodrigo Lima scored the only goal of the game just after the hour mark last month at Azadi Stadium as Al Ahli boosted their hopes of becoming the first side from the UAE to win the continental title since Al Ain claimed the inaugural AFC Champions League crown in 2003.