It'a All About...Gamba Osaka
Round Two of my new feature, "It's All About..." focuses on the growing impact of Asian football on world football.
Manchester United's recent trip to Japan for the 2008 World Club Cup brought several Asian clubs into focus for many football fans across the world.
While British critics furiously debated what impact this foray would have on the club's Premier League campaign, it was, for many of us, an exciting opportunity to gauge how far Asian football has come since South Korea's inspiring 2002 World Cup campaign and, earlier, Saudi Arabia's memorable 1994 World Cup performances.
Despite Asia's sporadic—many would say dubious—contribution to world football as we remember it over the past century, there are many clubs steeped in tradition, with many stories to tell and many triumphs worth reminiscing upon proudly.
The English champions were pitted against six other less prestigious football teams from less developed footballing continents and eventually crowned champions, following an entertaining 5-3 victory over Japanese side Gamba Osaka. It was not, however, as easy as many would have envisioned.
While Man Utd eased off towards the end of their semi-tie with one eye already on the final to come, the Japanese team won many plaudits for their attacking verve and high levels of skill.
So, what else can I tell you about this J-League Division One side?
1. The club's name has its origins in the Italian word 'gamba' (meaning 'leg') and the Japanese word 'gambaru' (meaning 'hold firm').
2. Gamba Osaka's players certainly held firm and used their legs to great effect when defeating Adelaide United 5-0 on aggregate in the final of the 2008 AFC Champions League.
3. The club is continuously financially handicapped by its location outside of Osaka's city limits and has to live in the shadow of the baseball team. Crowds at the beginning of the millennium dropped to a near all-time low of 9,000 and now average double that figure.
4. The club was originally founded in 1980 as Matsushita Electric Industrial Corporation (Panasonic)Limited Soccer Club in Nara Prefecture (MEICLSCNP...hardly rolls of the tongue!), but changed its name in 1991.
5. Famous former players include Fulham cult hero Junichi Inamoto and Cameroonian man-mountain Patrick Mboma.
6. The side ended this season with a 1-0 victory in the Emperor's Cup final thanks to injury-plagued forward Ryuji Bando's 117th minute strike, thus ensuring that the club will be able to defend their Asian Champion's League crown next year.
7. Their star player is former Brazilian youth international striker Lucas Severino, who has played for Samba giants Cruzeiro and Corinthians and, at one point, commanded a transfer fee of €21 million when moving to French side FC Rennes.
Next up...Hyundai A-League's defending champions Newcastle United Jets.
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