Gamba Osaka added a 3-1 home win against FC Tokyo to two away wins to make it three successive victories, and nine points that pull them clear of the bottom of J1. Two of Gamba's goals came from Tunisian striker Issam Jebali, who we caught up with after the game.

Interview JSoccer Magazine and, pictures Lionel Piguet for JSoccer.


JSoccer (JSoccer): First of all... you look much stronger, much fitter in recent games. How are you feeling, and what has changed?

Issam Jebali (IJ): As has been revealed, I have not been fully fit until now, with injuries and lack of match fitness. I would say it's been bad luck, with me moving to a new country, feeling some jet lag at first, playing on different pitch surfaces, so my body has taken time to adapt. I had some tendon problems, but now, as you have said you can see, I feel much better and am showing what I can do. I feel much better, but mostly I feel I can now play without concern about injuries I was carrying, and I have also gotten used to the players around me.

JS: Having a settled family life helps?

IJ: Yes, of course, my kids are enjoying Japan. It's a nice country and it is great to be here.

And after scoring today, how do you feel?

IJ: It's always the best feeling for a striker to score goals and today I scored two so I am happy, but it doesn't matter who scores, it matters that we got three points, and I will continue to work hard for the team, and hopefully score more goals. I want to play well, I want to help the team and had some initial bad luck with injuries - I had been in pain, but I dealt with it - and a big thanks to the medical staff at Gamba for that - but now I am feeling much better and am able to show what I can do.

It was an overall good team performance today...

IJ: Yes, it was a great game that we went into with a good attitude, good concentration and ready to fight, so I am very proud of the way we played today. A great game. We have been varying our approach, sometimes direct and fast to me up front, other times holding and passing - the "tiki-taka" approach, too.

What are your thoughts on the season so far?

IJ: We still have many games to go and we have to build on these last three games of success. We have had many injuries and it takes time for a team to gel with a new head coach, and with new players, but I am 100% sure that the best is yet to come. I have improved physically - I had been afraid to shoot sometimes, in case my muscles were not quite ready - while the rest of the team are also getting more confident in my abilities, and they give me more of the ball.

You have again been selected ior the Tunisian national team squad. How does it feel to be going back home as a national team player again?

IJ: Of course, it will be nice to be going back home to Tunisia, but I am not going on holiday, I am going back to the represent my country at the highest level - to play the football of the national team so, from tomorrow I have to be ready, and I have to switch into national team mode and give my best. Yes, I am very happy to be selected, and we have two games, so I hope to be at my best.

Of course, you are not the only Tunisian national team player in Japan now - there is also Nassim Ben Khalifa - does it help having a compatriot in Japan? He tells us that you talk often.

IJ: Yes, I think it helps a lot, and we do talk a lot, and it is nice to have someone to talk to, but there are so many different cultures at Gamba and in J.League, so I think it is good to be able to communicate and play with all the different cultures here, like the Brazilians, also. Nassim is one of my best friends, so it's nice to have him around.

I'd like to ask your opinion about the national team and its players. There seem to be many talented young Tunisian players who are playing in other leagues now, and perhaps choosing to play for other national teams that they may qualify for. In your opinion, is it a difficult choice for these players?

IJ: It is a big subject. There are players choosing to play for France - like Ben Arfa - and Switzerland, and others. It is a difficult choice and hard to decide for the young players. They realise it is hard to play in a national team in Africa, and some of the want to play, and stay, in Europe, so I also understand them - it is a difficult choice. It's hard but the Tunisian national team have a project that looks to the future, working more with young players.

JS: Today the crowd gave you a standing ovation, how did that feel?

IJ: It was a great moment, of course, I always play for the fans. They are here for us even in the difficult moments, so it's an amazing feeling to have these people as our fans.




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