Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Shonan Preview

Speaking after Saturday's scrambled win over Montedio Yamagata, Omiya captain Chikara Fujimoto was at least honest about the situation: the performance didn't matter, only the result mattered. In other words, we have to win even if we win ugly. And thanks to Naoki Ishihara's dramatic 70th-minute goal, one that perhaps appropriately when bearing in mind the football played in the rest of the match was bundled over the line from a metre out by a player lying on the ground, Ardija did get the result they needed to overtake both of their main relegation rivals, FC Tokyo and Vissel Kobe.

Heading into a critically important period of the season and with no opportunity for a break between fixtures, coach Jun Suzuki needs his big players to earn their money and put in reliably consistent performances. As such, Rafael is pretty much without question Omiya's most crucial individual squad member and the Squirrels certainly have a far better chance of winning any given game if he is on form and combining well team-mates such as Fujimoto. But the problem is that Suzuki's favoured partner for Rafael, Lee Chun Soo, has failed to convince as a goalscorer since replacing Ishihara in the starting line-up.

Former Bellmare man Ishihara is easily the best close-range finisher that Ardija possess and he's also quick, doggedly determined and very brave. Chun Soo has speed, but he lacks the killer instinct in front of goal and the feeling remains that Suzuki is playing his mid-season signing out of position - that the strikers should be Rafael alongside Ishihara, with Chun Soo taking one of the wide midfield slots, most obviously in place of the ineffective but apparently undroppable Fujimoto. Perhaps the forthcoming run of matches will see Ishihara get more on-field time and the opportunity to become the first Omiya player ever to score ten J1 goals in a season.

Meanwhile down Shonan way the Kanagawa Blue and Greens have undergone a terrible year back in the top division. Their winless streak is now up to fifteen games, the last victory coming almost four months ago at fellow strugglers Kyoto Sanga. The Squirrels experienced the rare sensation of totally dominating the home fixture at Kumagaya in August, many supporters feeling disappointed that a side as apparently poor as Bellmare were beaten by only three goals. A repeat of such a display on Wednesday night would be absolutely perfect - but as Fujimoto said, the result is the only thing that counts now.

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