Sunday, 20 February 2011

Omiya, Kings Of Saitama

After a series of training matches against J2 and university opponents, on Sunday the Squirrels stepped up their preparations for the new J1 season with the first friendly of 2011 against a top-division side. Neighbours and rivals Urawa Reds were the visitors to NACK5 Stadium for the latest edition of the so-called Saitama City Cup and of the two coaches it is undoubtedly Jun Suzuki of Omiya rather than Reds' Zeljko Petrovic who will be happier about the outcome. A 3-0 scoreline might be somewhat harsh on Urawa in terms of the balance of play, but Suzuki's hardworking Ardija certainly deserved the win for a particularly impressive second half performance.

For the supporters there were three eye-catching aspects to the Omiya starting line-up, as Korean youngster Kim Yong Gwon was selected in the middle of the back four, fellow new signing Kota Ueda appeared in midfield and Daisuke Watabe popped up as a wide player in a notional 4-3-3. But formations, tactics and style seemed to go out of the window for both sides in an extraordinary, almost anarchic first 45 minutes which was played at such a high tempo that quality football was practically impossible. Couple that with referee Yoshiro Imamura blowing every time anyone fell over and it was just about the scrappiest half of a football match anyone could wish to see.

Reds perhaps had slightly the better of things, but the combination of Kim and Shusuke Tsubouchi kept the door tightly shut in front of the Omiya goal and keeper Takashi Kitano was left only with the simplest of stops to make. After the re-start, however, Urawa seemed to lose their energy and Ardija began to take control, ex-Jubilo Iwata man Ueda impressing in the way he co-ordinated the Squirrels' play with his vision and simple passing. But it was defender Kim who scored the opener eight minutes into the second period, firing in from the edge of the area when Reds keeper Norihiro Yamagishi was left unprotected by his team-mates.

Shortly afterwards the fans got their first glimpse of two other newcomers to the Omiya squad as Daigo Watanabe replaced Arata Sugiyama at right back and U22 starlet Keigo Higashi came on for Chikara Fujimoto in an attacking midfield role. Higashi had a disastrous first few minutes, conceding the ball in a dangerous position that led to a Reds near miss and also picking up a yellow card from Mr Imamura. But it was at the other end that the referee had the greatest impact on the match when in 72nd minute he sent off Urawa defender Nobuhisa Yamada for an apparently accidental off-the-ball clash with Tsubouchi that also resulted in a penalty, easily converted by Rafael.

In holding on to their lead Ardija were aided by Urawa's consistently poor use of set pieces - surprising indeed bearing in mind the abilities of key new player Marcio Richardes - and the total anonymity of forward Edmilson. The Squirrels had several half-chances to score a third via a series of quick breaks mainly involving Higashi and another substitute, Naoki Ishihara, and their efforts finally paid off in injury time when Higashi finished from close range after another counter attack. A good performance and a superb result, then, that gives Omiya fans considerable cause for optimism ahead of the 2011 campaign. Bring on the Antlers.



fdelbrayelle 25 February 2011 at 00:43  

Hi there! I'm a French guy who writes about Japan on my blog. Recently, I've started to write on japanese soccer too and will try to deal with Omiya Ardija too!

Furtho 26 February 2011 at 18:56  

I added your link, Francois, merci bien.

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