December 30, 2009: It wasn't just the dazzling yellow boots of Michihiro Yasuda that sparkled in the winter sunshine at National Stadium on Tuesday.
His performance was bright and breezy, too, as he helped Gamba Osaka beat Vegalta Sendai 2-1 in the Emperor's Cup semi-finals.
Yasuda, who turned 22 as recently as December 20, made his name as a swashbuckling left back for Gamba and in Japan's Olympic team, but he looked very much at home on the right side in place of the suspended Akira Kaji.
With the steady and resourceful Hideo Hashimoto in front of him in midfield, the pair had the right side stitched up all afternoon and helped keep Sendai at a safe distance.
Going forward, Yasuda made the cross that led to an early goal from Lucas, following a weak punch by keeper Takuto Hayashi, and at the back he defended well, especially in his own penalty box. One moment really caught the eye, when in the 36th minute, he made a wonderful interception to deny Sendai striker Yuki Nakashima. The Sendai fans behind the goal appealed for a foul and a penalty, but it was a perfect challenge from Yasuda, who made clean contact to divert the ball for a corner.
Later, deep in the second half, he was under pressure from the Sendai attack down the left wing, but he showed maturity and discipline to stay on his feet and watch the ball, rather than lunging in and conceding a free kick or taking himself out of the game with a reckless tackle.
Yasuda looked focused and business-like throughout, so it was no surprise to learn after the game that he had recently decided to stay with Gamba and had a very clear mind about his future.
After all, it must have been frustrating for him in recent months, as he now appears to be third-choice left back – behind the converted centre half, Kazumichi Takagi, and Takumi Shimohira – and second-choice right back after Kaji. Presumably he could have moved on quite easily, but has committed himself to Gamba.
It was a wonderful day all round for football on Tuesday. The weather was perfect (officially 9.3 degrees C) as the match kicked off in bright winter sunshine at 3pm, and ended under the glow of the floodlights and a near full moon looking down on the famous old stadium.
I always think it is a great shame that the Japanese season is just ending in such ideal conditions, when the players and fans have had to slog through the hot and humid summer months of July and August – which is not football weather at all.