Sunday, 7 March 2010

Cerezo Preview

So, here we are again. Despite the always-pessimistic annual predictions of the experts, Ardija are still a J1 club and moreover are heading into the 2010 campaign with arguably the best squad in the club's history. Most fans would no doubt prefer coach Jang Wae Ryong to have departed following an unnecessarily tense end to 2009, but even so there's lots to be optimistic about. Pre-season results have been impressive, the new defence is looking particularly strong and in An Yong Hak there is a player motivated to perform well so as to get the chance to be the first-ever Squirrel to take part in the World Cup finals.

Jang has clearly prioritised the strengthening of the back four, releasing veterans Daisuke Tomita and Yasuhiro Hato while also being happy to let Yosuke Kataoka be sold to Kyoto Sanga. While first and foremost an appalling personal and professional turn of events, Taishi Tsukamoto's cancer diagnosis is also a blow to the balance of the squad, but one which when it comes to the mundane business of winning football matches Jang and his players must try to use in a positive manner. Let's hope that the Squirrels are able to draw strength from adversity of the most terrible kind.

If the defence of Mato Neretljak, Yuki Fukaya, Arata Sugiyama and Kazuhiro Murakami looks settled in front of new keeper Takashi Kitano, the line-up of the 2010 Ardija midfield is looking less clear. Last season, Jang moved Hayato Hashimoto into the middle alongside Shin Kanazawa, but the arrival of An as a solid defensive midfield player would seem to raise doubts about Hashimoto continuing in such a role: will he remain at the heart of the Omiya team, shift back out to the wing or no longer be a member of the first team? Any of these options seems possible ahead of Sunday's opener with Cerezo Osaka.

Ardija's preferred front two of Naoki Ishihara and Rafael also looks settled - but the main battleground in the match against the Cherries looks set to be between Cerezo's attack and Omiya's defence. Certainly the eyes of the media will be on young stars Shinji Kagawa and Takashi Inui, plus new signing Adriano, as all of them make their J1 debuts in opposition to Neretljak, Fukaya and co. It certainly has the potential to be a very interesting encounter to begin the Squirrels' sixth year as a top flight side, and is one that Omiya have the potential to win. Go Ardija in 2010!



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