Takashi Usami was Gamba Osaka’s hat-trick hero on Saturday as he inspired his team to a 3-1 victory at Montedio Yamagata on the final day of the MEIJI YASUDA J1 League’s first stage.
The league’s most lethal marksman ensured the Japanese champions ended on a winning note and retained his place at the top of the scoring charts, having raced there in the first months of the season but failing to find the net since the second week of May.
Usami broke his drought in the 50th minute but the highlight was his 12th goal of the season nine minutes later, when the former Bayern Munich starlet burst into Montedio’s box after excellent interplay with Hiroyuki Abe and Patric to double Gamba’s lead.
The 23-year-old needed no invitation to fire home his first hat-trick of the season from a rebound shortly afterwards, helping Kenta Hasegawa’s side break a three-game winless streak and look forward to the second stage of the season with case for optimism.
Fellow star Yoshinori Muto made his final contributions in an FC Tokyo shirt before his move to Germany’s Mainz, lifting the capital club to a 3-2 win over Shimizu S-Pulse and second in the table before lapping up the affection of the home supporters afterwards.
Keigo Higashi got the party off on the right foot when he netted Tokyo’s opener in the 38th minute, but Genki Omae threatened to dampen celebratory atmosphere when he replied for S-Pulse after the break.
But Muto ensured he was not about to be upstaged when he sliced through the visitors’ defence to lay on for Ryoichi Maeda to put Tokyo back in the lead, with the latter completing his brace minutes later.
And though Hideki Ishige put the three points in jeopardy with a blockbuster effort that had Shuichi Gonda beaten all ends up, Massimo Ficcadenti’s first stage runners’ up clung on to ensure Muto’s heartfelt farewell ceremony at the end proceeded in triumphant spirits.
Ishige’s effort was matched by Kawasaki Frontale’s Renato as he curled in from range in his club’s 3-2 victory at Kashima Antlers.
The Brazilian striker struck the spectacular second to put Frontale into a two-goal lead following his compatriot Elsinho’s opener.
Veteran hitman Yoshito Okubo wrapped up the win right after the break, ensuring Antlers’ scorers Mu Kanazaki and Shuhei Akasaki efforts to drag their side back from defeat in front of their supporters were ultimately in vain.
A similar upset may have lain on the cards when first stage winners Urawa Reds hosted basement side Albirex Niigata following their trophy celebrations last week.
But a brace each from Shinzo Koroki and Yuki Muto ensured Mihailo Petrovic’s men surged to a 5-2 win and made history as the first outfit to complete a J.League stage unbeaten in the process, winning 12 and drawing five over the 17 fixtures.
A dramatic 2-2 result was played out between Sagan Tosu and Sanfrecce Hiroshima at Best Amenity Stadium meanwhile, with Sagan hitman Yohei Toyoda netting the opener in a balanced game.
Toshihiro Aoyama then struck a stunning volley from beyond the box and into the bottom left corner of Akihiro Hayashi’s net, before Douglas fired Sanfrecce into the lead from the penalty spot.
It was Toyoda who would have the last say however, his bullet header in the 96th minute from a corner in the last kick of the game the 30-year-old’s 12th goal this season, moving him second in the scoring charts.
Vegalta Sendai’s 2-0 win in their mid-table clash with Nagoya Grampus was straightforward on the other hand, while Shonan Bellmare’s 3-2 win at Matsumoto Yamaga produced a thrilling second half when all five goals were scored.
Kashiwa Reysol could only end a disappointing first stage with a 1-1 draw against rejuvenated Ventforet Kofu at Yamanashi Chuo Bank Stadium, while Yokohama F.Marinos finish their campaign in a respectable sixth place following their result of the same scoreline at Vissel Kobe.