Gamba Osaka earned plenty of plaudits for their never-say-die attitude during their 5-3 semi-final loss to Manchester United at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008, but the Asian champions are still rueing what might have been.
"We played positively and never strayed from our attacking style of football, even if we had to take a few risks," said Gamba coach Akira Nishino, who was without right-winger Hayato Sasaki and livewire forward Takahiro Futagawa after the pair were injured in the quarter-final clash with Adelaide United. "That said, we conceded five goals, including a couple of soft ones. We've got plenty of things to work on."
"I constantly tell my players that we're professionals and that regardless of who our opposition is, we must stand united as a team and accept nothing less than playing to win," continued the respected strategist. "Playing Manchester United in a match like this is fantastic for Gamba. This is a historic day for our club."
Gamba battled back bravely to make the scoreline respectable after three Manchester United goals in five second-half minutes had threatened to turn the game into a rout. However, Futagawa did suggest the Red Devils might have eased off in the closing stages with one eye on Sunday's final against Liga de Quito: "It was an entertaining game. But I think Manchester United were holding something back."
Nevertheless, Gamba's refusal to adopt a more conservative approach against a team boasting the likes of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo should give the squad plenty of confidence for the challenges ahead. Before the game, wide man Michihiro Yasuda singled out Ronaldo as the player he was most looking forward to pitting his skills against. However, Yasuda was unable to meet his own high expectations: "It's a disappointing result, but we played well in patches," said the Japanese international.
Forward Lucas agreed that, despite being outgunned in certain areas, Gamba could hold their heads high. "We started off pretty well. Even after we let in a few goals, we never stopped running and [Yasuhito] Endo and the guys worked hard in midfield to pick up some loose balls and create some goalscoring chances," said Lucas, who had a busy game up front. "We were outplayed in several facets of the game. Even when we stopped one player, they always seemed to have someone else available. But tonight we showed everyone what Gamba are capable of."
United star Ryan Giggs also had words of praise for Gamba's display: "They played well as a team, and they certainly didn't just sit back and wait for us to come to them." And though in the build-up to Japan 2008, Gamba President Kikuo Kanamori had said he "couldn't quite grasp the magnitude of our victory in the Asian Champions League", the Manchester United game will have helped answer that very question.
Indeed, Kanamori firmly believes his side are on the right track for the future. "I have faith in coach Nishino," he said. "I want him to guide Gamba to victory again in the J.League so we regularly play in the Asian Champions League and are a constant presence in the Club World Cup."
Gamba will return to Yokohama on Sunday for the play-off for third place against Mexico's Pachuca. While no title will be at stake, Gamba will undoubtedly give their all in this game so they can match the achievements of fierce rivals Urawa Red Diamonds, who defeated Tunisia's Etoile Sportive du Sahel in this fixture at Japan 2007 to claim third place.