Monday, 31 May 2010

Agent Orange: I Still Hate The Nabisco Cup

Ironically we are inching up on the Fifth Anniversary of my first taste of Omiya magic. Like that thrilling 3-0 victory over Vissel Kobe all those years ago, yesterday's affair against Albirex Niigata was a Nabisco Cup contest... and that's where the similarities end. If you've read my previous articles (thank God!), you'll know that my feelings on this competition range somewhere between how I feel about the Nazis (hate 'em) and how I feel about Sota Hirayama (I wish the bastard would rot in hell).

I'm not a fan. I think the soccer is awful and disjointed at its best and lacklustre and boring at its worst. I think the tournament invites penalties for teams that follow the spirit of it and try to advance, in the form of red cards that jeopardize games in the league. Leading up to kick-off on Saturday, I kind of was shocked when I found myself being excited for a Nabisco Cup game. I blame it on our illustrious 3-1 victory over Nagoya Grampus 3 (at least five of their key players were out, so it wouldn't be fair to call them 8).

I got giddy over a result that was dubious on a lot of levels. Part of it had to do with the fact that young guys were actually getting a chance to play. In years past, Nabisco Cup fixtures would see Ardija put out a team of, (a) regular starters who then played less inspired than in league games, or, (b) a team made up of mostly starters with one or two of the first subs off the bench in their place, or, (c) a team made up of bad-quality players in their mid- to late-20s who would eventually parlay mediocre performances into long-term starting jobs (Yosuke Kataoka, Yusuke Murayama and Kohei Tokita, I'm talking to you!).

Against Niigata, for the first time since my first glorious day as a Squirrel back in June 2005, I had no major problem with the lineup we fielded. Rafael and Naoki Ishihara need the time to re-establish their partnership. Jun Kanakubo and Takuya Aoki need the experience. Shunsuke Fukuda and Daisuke Watabe need minutes. And Dudu needs to show that he can actually compete at J1 level.

The result was not unexpected and the performance, while frustrating, was not entirely disappointing. Aoki put on his worst display as an Omiya player but still had a few good moments. Fukuda had communication mishaps but played a respectable ninety minutes. Watabe was a bit out of his depth on the man-marking, but created four good chances out of his side position and threatened Niigata on the right. Kanakubo had a reasonable performance.

The finishing was woeful. Omiya turned the ball over a lot but still manufactured seven chances in front of an open net or an isolated keeper: two went off the post, two were knocked away by Swans keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi, one was cleared by a defender and two were just wide of the net. That's not counting the numerous times we just gave the ball away. Not a good game, but a necessary one for coach Jun Suzuki to see exactly what he has and what he needs.

I'm not sure if Dudu is on that list. He is just a frustrating guy to watch. It was very easy to write off players like Salles and Enilton because you knew they weren't good enough to play here. You could say the same thing about Denis Marques and Pedro Junior because they had quality but didn't look like they would fit in. But Dudu, he frustrates me. He in essence is the Brazilian Chikara Fujimoto.

He has the ability to hold the ball in traffic and dribble through people. He can set people up for chances. He has a decent pass. He also doesn't like to really hustle out there, he won't get back into defense if he's frustrated. He has an awful touch around the net. He breaks up the momentum in attack in order to pursue his own agenda. And last night he showed flashes of blaming other people for his mistakes. At the half-time, he was throwing a bit of a tantrum because he couldn't get on the same page as Ishihara, Kanakubo and Shin Kanazawa.

Yet he still sucks me in with flashes of good play and a sense of where to get Rafael the ball so he can attack. If he were five or six years younger, I'd keep him. If we had a team where we had depth, I'd keep him. But he's not and we don't. Anyhow, this is Year 6 for me and Omiya won't be going past the Nabisco Cup group stages again. I for one am relieved. Ganbatte FC Tokyo and Vegalta Sendai! Keep pushing towards that final goal!

The Other Side Of Noda

I do have to admit, I'm having a bit of an infatuation with the yellow side of the Noda Line Derby (that's Kashiwa Reysol, for the uninitiated). Hayato Hashimoto's unlikely goal for Omiya against Reysol in the second to last game of 2009 has had an ironically positive effect on their current fortunes in J2. They've been great on defense (seven goals conceded in fourteen games), solid on offense and are undefeated to boot. They kept together the core of last year's team but don't really rely on them. If you look at this year's squad, they are doing it with a ton of guys on the right side of 23, including an eighteen-year-old who notched a hat-trick two weeks ago. All of this raises two questions:

1. What would our team look like if we had gone to J2? and

2. If Kashiwa aren't going to use Minoru Suganuma, why won't they let him come home to Omiya (this is the last time I mention Suganuma until he either gets sent to a team competing for J1 survival against us, or he gets minutes again for Kashiwa, or we actually do the right thing and pick him up for our midfield. I'm betting Vegalta gets him, just so I can watch the aneurism in my head grow a bit more)?


I won't be seeing the Cerezo Osaka game, so won't be back until we play Vegalta. Should be good and angry then.



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