Saturday, 13 November 2010

Nagoya Preview

Two wins in five days have naturally put a much better complexion on the Mighty Squirrels' fight against relegation, a scrappy Naoki Ishihara goal deciding a scrappy game with Montedio Yamagata which was followed by a professional display against a perhaps predictably poor Shonan Bellmare side. They were the sorts of matches that a team looking to avoid heading back to J2 really needs to be winning and a five-point gap has as a consequence opened up between Omiya and their closest challengers FC Tokyo and Vissel Kobe.

But they were also matches that taught us things about Jun Suzuki's Ardija team. First, if we didn't know before we've had vigorously underlined the extent to which Rafael is key to Omiya as a winning side. He brings to the Squirrels vision, mobility, technique and an eye for goal; a poor first half performance against Yamagata was instantly forgotten when in stoppage time Rafael picked up on a brilliant through pass from Shin Kanazawa and lashed it past keeper Kenta Shimizu. One chance, one goal - a game-changing moment from a player who also went on to contribute the vital, nerve-settling second goal at Shonan.

But we've also seen that Ardija are still at times worryingly shaky in the middle of the defence. Montedio could and perhaps should have been at least two ahead by the time Kanazawa and Rafael worked their magic and against Bellmare, a confidence-boosting clean sheet was squandered in the dying seconds of the game. Casting our minds back to the start of the season, with a trio of Mato Neretljak and new signings defender Yuki Fukaya and goalkeeper Takashi Kitano, everyone seemed confident that Omiya would be stronger in that part of the team. The last couple of games have acted as a reminder that it hasn't quite turned out like that.

Kitano has indeed had a good campaign, but it would be fair to say that the Neretljak / Fukaya combination has not worked out as well as anticipated and the loss for three weeks of Shusuke Tsubouchi could yet turn out to be a major blow. Another new arrival over the winter, Tsubouchi was never expected to be much more than a bit-part player, but instead he has brought reliability and solidity to the Squirrels back four. And looking at Sunday's visit to red-hot title favourites Nagoya Grampus, a probable central defensive partnership of Fukaya and Neretljak would seem to lack the pace to deal with opponents such as Keiji Tamada.

The other thing that we've learned is that Jun Suzuki sometimes is unable to use his substitutions to their best effect. Of course, there's nothing that can be done about a situation such as Tsubouchi's injury at Shonan, but to have got into a 3-0 lead in that match and then not brought on talismanic goalscorer Naoki Ishihara until five minutes from the end seems perverse. The point about Ishihara not being part of the starting line-up was made on these pages just a matter of days ago, but a more positive substitution strategy from Suzuki could have narrowed the goal difference gap between Ardija and Vegalta Sendai by a vital couple more goals.

Omiya go into Sunday's game without suspended wide midfielder Jun Kanakubo, which is unlucky for a young player whose superb free kick set the Squirrels off on the right track against Bellmare. Unless Suzuki goes for a more radical change, the most likely eventuality is for Hayato Hashimoto to come in for what would be his first J1 start for three months. Not that much of a thrilling prospect. But hey, how about trying Lee Chun Soo as a winger and putting Ishihara up front with Raf... ah, OK, we did say that before, didn't we.

More positively from a Squirrels perspective, J1's top scorer Josh Kennedy will be missing from the Grampus line-up due to suspension, but his team-mates will move to within two points of their first ever J-League title if they beat Ardija. The Red Whales haven't lost at home in the league since a 4-1 pasting by Kashima Antlers in May - which was followed by the Squirrels' going to the Mizuho Stadium and recording a shock 3-1 triumph in the Nabisco Cup. That night, Shin Kanazawa and Rafael between them scored three times in seven stunning minutes at the end of the first half, which has to represent Omiya's most effective spell of football of the season. Is there really a chance of a repeat?



  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by 2008

Back to TOP