Sunday, 1 August 2010

Squirrel's Eye View: ... Same Next Week?

OK, so, in fact, despite the attitude expressed in my preview post of in-built caution that is for many a natural by-product of following Ardija, we won. Theoretically at least a "surprising" result, sure, but one that in a sense came about in a curiously unsurprising manner. Why so? Well, Omiya might if they're being honest accept that they are fundamentally relegation scrappers, destined to be in the bottom six or so for the vast majority of any given season. But the Squirrels, with their twice-a-season glimpses of fluid footballing brilliance, are positively multi-faceted when compared with their Saitama neighbours and rivals.

Because Reds are inconsistent to the core. That the 4-0 away crushing of a relegation-threatened team might be followed three days later by a home loss to an equally poorly-placed opponent is simply an expression of the character of Volker Finke's Urawa, as it was last year when Omiya triumphed 3-0 in the equivalent fixture. That is, at heart, what his team is like. However well they played against Kyoto Sanga, on Saturday they had thirteen corners but never come close to scoring from a set piece, they had the fastest player on the field in Wilfried Sanou and he unleashed his fearsome pace to cause absolute panic in the Ardija defence on... one solitary occasion.

They had a team full of players who, bizarrely and inexplicably, never seemed really to believe that they would score, even with the man advantage brought about by the controversial dismissal just before half time of Kazuhiro Murakami. It was striking to note the contrasting demeanours of the sides after, for instance, another Urawa corner had come to nothing: the Reds players seemed for all the world resigned to their fate, as if finding the net against a team in the bottom three was a feat they couldn't really be expected to perform. Their opponents in white were pumped, shouting encouragement to each other, full of resolve.

God, I wish it was always like that. In the early stages of the game Ardija didn't play fantastically, but there was neat pass-and-move football. It was up-tempo, they looked interested, keen to get forward and create chances. There was variation and flexibility in the play of Chikara Fujimoto and Norio Suzuki, young Takuya Aoki on another day could have scored twice, the concentration and determination of central defenders Shusuke Tsubouchi and Yuki Fukaya were exemplary, Takashi Kitano looked a picture of dependability in goal. There was passion.

And God, I wish it was always like that. Murakami's sending off of course changed the pattern of the match completely and if Jun Suzuki's tactical approach wasn't clear enough in the first few minutes of the second half, with Rafael as a lone striker and nine other players scampering round on defensive duty, the replacement of teeny tiny Masahiko Ichikawa with giant defender Mato Neretljak was confirmation of how the Omiya coach anticipated that the remainder of the game would be played out. Urawa tried to stretch the play and use the wings, but there was always, always an Ardija body in the way.

So how about the King of Saitama? Having got two beauties in the game in October, Rafael's close-range toe-poke this time around wasn't as pretty to look at. He still seems a little short on confidence and although he worked relentlessly, Rafa isn't at his best as a target man holding up long balls and providing his defensive colleagues with the chance for a break. Naoki Ishihara, on the other hand, was outstandingly good at exactly that when he replaced Rafael with fifteen minutes to go. Everyone, in fact, played his part. Everyone knew his job and was committed to getting the win. Here's the thing, though: we need it always to be like that.



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