Sunday, 7 August 2011

Sendai Preview

It's been a tragic week for Japanese football. Players and fans alike have been stunned at the death of ex-Yokohama F Marinos defender Naoki Matsuda, who on Tuesday collapsed unconscious while training with his JFL club Matsumoto Yamaga and simply never woke up. A little over 48 hours later a Marinos hero, stalwart international player and J-League giant passed away. The footballing community in Japan as a whole has been in mourning since that time, with many former Yokohama and national team colleagues making the trip to the Matsumoto hospital where Matsuda lay, still wearing his boots, green Yamaga shirt and trademark headband.

There's an inevitably somewhat bleak Ardija connection to two key dates in the latter stages of Naoki Matsuda's life as a footballer. On 4th December 2010 he made the very last of his 385 appearances for Marinos as an 84th-minute substitute in what turned out to be a 2-0 Omiya win. It was a bit-part player, Lee Ho, who had the final word in Matsuda's sixteen-season J-League career, scoring the Squirrels' second goal with the last kick of the game. And the last game that Naoki Matsuda was ever to attend was last Saturday, when his beloved Marinos beat Omiya 2-1 to consolidate their place where he wanted them to be: at the top of J1.

We would like to offer our condolences to the family and friends of Naoki Matsuda. May he rest in peace.


The two goals scored against Ardija by Marinos' Masashi Oguro highlighted the modest gap that there seems to be between most teams in J1 this year. Omiya put up a decent enough display and took the lead in the first half via a flicked header by Rafael, converting a delicious Kota Ueda ball into the area. But after the interval, Oguro was at his lethal close-range best while at the other end Lee Chun Soo missed two outstanding chances. That was the difference between the sides. And it could be that those wasted opportunities prove to be something of a turning point in the South Korean's Ardija career.

Because now there is a big question mark hanging over Lee in terms of where he may be used on the field and how much playing time he might get. Press reports suggest that new signing Rodrigo Pimpao is likely to start Sunday's game against Vegalta Sendai up front alongside Rafael, which if correct means that Chun Soo will either switch to a wide midfield role or be dropped to the bench. Both options, frankly speaking, are better than maintaining the current system and just hoping that Lee will become the consistent, dangerous goalscorer that Jun Suzuki wants him to be.

A small irony is that Chun Soo's last goal for Omiya was a tremendous header that brought victory in the away match at Sendai. It also ended Vegalta's unbeaten home record and with the northern side on something of a slump in form, tomorrow provides a real chance for Omiya to conclude their own infamous home record of no league wins. The prospect of picking up three vital points at NACK5 and seeing newcomer Rodrigo Pimpao for the first time means that there's a heightened sense of anticipation ahead of kick off. But for now the question remains, where will the goals come from?



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