Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Squirrel's Eye View: Cerezo Osaka

OK, so it looks like things went pretty badly wrong as far as GGOA's predictions regarding the Squirrels' season opener against Cerezo Osaka were concerned. To save you scrolling down the page in order to laugh at the extent of my wrongness, the basic point I made was that the outcome of the match depended on the balance between Cerezo's attack and Ardija's defence; between the movement and enthusiasm of Shinji Kagawa and Takashi Inui and the rock-like solidity of Mato Neretljak and Yuki Fukaya. Well, Kagawa and Inui did move and Mato and Fukaya were like rocks, but as it turned out that battle wasn't the key to the game.

No, the three points were won as a consequence of - and this is perhaps the first occasion that anyone writing about Omiya has ever had the opportunity to use these words - Jang Wae Ryong's side dominating the midfield. The pattern was set within the first twenty minutes or so, during which time the threat of Inui, Kagawa and Adriano was overcome by the tough-tackling energy of An Yong Hak and Shin Kanazawa in the centre of Squirrels midfield, coupled with the willingness to get forward of wingbacks Kazuhiro Murakami on the left and especially Arata Sugiyama on the right.

It may have taken a rather lucky goal direct from a corner by Hayato Hashimoto to give Omiya the lead, but for the home side not have been in front after a quarter of the match would simply have been morally unacceptable. And it was the other main positive to emerge from the match which ensured that Ardija were two ahead by half time, as the consistently dangerous Rafael toyed with the Cerezo back line before feeding his strike partner Naoki Ishihara to score from close range. Quite how much the team will miss Rafael as a result of his serious-looking injury in the closing seconds is something to be considered on another day.

Of course, the Cherries' attacking players are of a decent quality and when Adriano has had more opportunity to gel with his new team-mates they will be a tougher opponent. Last season's Omiya team would arguably still have won this game, in particular due to the extraordinary energy that the Taishi Tsukamoto situation seemed to feed into the whole afternoon, but I do think Cerezo would have scored against a 2009-era Squirrels side. As it was, when the odd chance did arise, Mato Neretljak made a superbly-timed tackle and another faultless debutant, Takashi Kitano, saved brilliantly from Ryuji Bando. Taishi, that was for you.



Anonymous,  8 March 2010 at 09:39  

What a cracker of a start for Ardija!! wow it seems the Squirrels took control early on and never looked back. Possibly nerves for the newly promoted Osaka? They did dominate J2 last season I expected more of a challenge, always happy to see Ishihara score :)

Furtho 8 March 2010 at 17:52  

Cerezo's star man Kagawa said afterwards that they weren't prepared for how quickly Ardija played. It didn't look like Cerezo were nervous to me, perhaps just a question of slight unfamiliarity with Adriano as a new player up front, although the defence didn't look all that sure of itself.

The issue for Omiya now is how long Rafael will be out for. In the 93rd minute he was running with the ball on a counter attack, nobody within five metres of him and he just fell to the ground clutching the back of his thigh. Obviously a serious muscle-related problem. We're just waiting for an announcement as to what his prospects are, and although it's certainly an early-season opportunity for Ichikawa or Fujita it will definitely mean a change of approach because there's simply no-one who can slot into the role that Rafael plays.

Anonymous,  9 March 2010 at 08:20  

That's a disaster! It wasn't just cramp? This is a big blow as Rafael is quite an influential striker.

It's good to hear that the midfield took control of the game, as opposed to a few occasions last season One I bared witness to.

Furtho 9 March 2010 at 17:43  

There hasn't been an official announcement yet, but Rafa's injury looked for all the world like a classic hamstring. You're right, it's a very big blow because he adds a great deal to the team. It isn't fair to criticise either of the likely replacements (Fujita and Ichikawa) for Not Being Rafael because they both have their good points, but I think that Omiya without him are lacking a dimension to their play. Assuming the worst, we'll see what Jang comes up with against Sendai on Saturday.

Furtho 9 March 2010 at 17:57  

... and just as I say that, the official site puts up a notice that Rafael is likely to be out for two months. Hamstring.

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