Saturday, 16 October 2010

Gamba Preview

So, apparently Omiya Ardija are playing in a football match this weekend. Anyone who has watched the Japanese football press over the last ten days or so could be forgiving for thinking that football itself is an irrelevance for the Squirrels, given that pretty much 100% of the media attention on the club during this period has concentrated on the controversy relating to Ardija president Seigo Watanabe and the declared crowd figure for the Saitama Derby match. The club's hard-earned good reputation, so precious in the context of its proximity of Urawa Reds, has taken a serious and unprecedented battering.

Hardly ideal preparation, then, for coach Jun Suzuki and his players, in the face of a continuing fight against relegation that sees Omiya lying just four points above the drop zone. They take their erratic form on Saturday to Gamba Osaka, question marks still hanging over a back four that has been unsettled by injury and suspension: Shunsuke Fukuda and the out-of-favour Mato Neretljak will have to start against Gamba, simply because there do not appear to be any other alternatives open to Suzuki, who at least has Rafael on decent goal-scoring form at the other end.

While Omiya hover as usual above the bottom three, Gamba have worked their way into the fringes of the title race - if it can still be said that there actually is a title race, given the length now of Nagoya Grampus' lead - but in their last league game fell to a surprising 2-1 defeat at Montedio Yamagata that saw the Blue and Blacks drop to fourth, below neighbours Cerezo Osaka. In the Emperor's Cup, Gamba seemed to be on the verge of a sensational home loss to decidedly modest J2 outfit Tochigi SC, but after trailing 2-0 at half time Lee Keun Ho's first goal for the club initiated a comeback and, ultimately, a narrow 3-2 victory.

In other words, despite their opponents being one of the top teams in the country - indeed, Gamba are actually unbeaten at home in the league this season - a couple of recent wobbles would indicate that the Squirrels could be facing a tougher task on Saturday. Suzuki must know that a draw will count as a decent enough result and he must know, too, that his team cannot afford to start as slowly as they did in the now-infamous defeat to Urawa. Ardija can compete with sides like Gamba, but they have to be at the peak of their game. Has the media circus around Watanabe been simply too much of a distraction for that to happen?

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