Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Squirrel's Eye View: Rafa Stars, Watanabe Mars

All told it was an amazing game at NACK5 on Saturday evening, with enough twists, turns and incidents to have filled three or four more workaday fixtures. A draw probably works out at a fair result although Omiya and Urawa supporters will both feel that their team could and should have won it. Even so, after nine rounds of the season Ardija are still left without a home victory while Reds slip catastrophically back into the relegation zone.

It was a close-fought first half, Urawa having more of the possession but Omiya defending well with an aggressive pressing game. Only once was there a loss of concentration that allowed Edmilson a header with only Takashi Kitano to beat, but the big Brazilian wasn't quick enough to get into position and ended up directing the ball away from Kitano's goal. At the other end an early Lee Chun Soo free kick was saved by Nobuhiro Kato, who also tipped a fizzing long-ranger from Rafael over the bar.

But Kato, almost unbelievably making his league debut in his eleventh season as a member of the Urawa first team squad, could do little about the Ardija striker's next attempt on goal. Daisuke Watabe found space down the Squirrels right and sent in a dangerous cross for Rafael to steal in front of the defender and steer in a brilliant header. And so Omiya went in at half time 1-0 up, reward for their hard work in defence and an incisive piece of attacking play.

Even if they continued to have trouble creating clear-cut chances Reds looked more dangerous at the start of the second period, Yosuke Kashiwagi in particular catching the eye. But when Yuki Fukaya banged in a free header to make it 2-0 to Omiya against the run of play, it seemed as if the Squirrels were on course for a win against their local rivals - if they could keep the energy levels up. Seconds later, however, Reds were handed a lifeline when Chikara Fujimoto was perhaps harshly judged to have fouled Marcio Richardes in the penalty area. Edmilson took what seemed like months to prepare for the kick but despite his apparent nerves he sent Kitano the wrong way and the visitors were back in it.

Urawa then took control of the midfield with Omiya having to be content with occasional counter attacks, most of which seemed to peter out when Lee Chun Soo gained possession. The lumbering Edmilson, who mostly served to blunt the Reds attack, managed on one occasion to cause panic in the Squirrels defence when he fired against the post from a narrow angle, but the equaliser when it came was from a different part of the team entirely. Genki Haraguchi burst into the right-hand side of the Omiya box and despite the attention of Watabe and Fukaya the youngster managed direct a shot in at the far post even as he stumbled to the ground.

Poor defending it may have been but the finish was extraordinary and looked set to pave the way to an Omiya defeat. But however much the momentum of the match was in their favour, Reds by this time had little else to offer as an attacking force and Ardija fought their way back into the match, substitute Naoki Ishihara adding instant quality on the break with his speed and awareness. In the closing seconds Ishihara fed Lee in an excellent position and the Korean's scuffed shot crept past Kato to strike the right-hand Urawa post. In a melee of players scrambling for the rebound Kota Ueda prodded the ball towards the line and it would have gone in had Daigo Watanabe not helped it on its way... from an offside position.

A certain goal - an almost certain Omiya winner - was therefore ruled out and a tempestuous game ended level. In the dressing room afterwards Watanabe may have detected a degree of frostiness in the attitude towards him of his team-mates, but for coach Jun Suzuki there are some positives at least to have come from the match. Aside from the Haraguchi goal it was basically a strong defensive performance, the introduction to the team of Shusuke Tsubouchi having added solidity on the left-hand side. With three goals in as many games Rafael is now looking a lot closer to his best and it was encouraging to see Ueda pick up an assist for the Fukaya goal. Now, if we could just have Ishihara in the starting XI...



Barry 12 June 2011 at 16:09  

Daigo Watanabe gets the D'oh! award...

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