Saturday, 15 October 2011

Urawa Preview


And so the Squirrels find themselves on the edge of an abyss, coming into the last half-dozen matches of the J1 season off the back of truly terrible performances against bottom-placed Avispa Fukuoka and then in the Emperor's Cup against the students of Fukuoka University. Five points is still the gap between out-of-form Omiya and Ventforet Kofu in the relegation zone - but with Japan's Kings of Underachievement Urawa Reds placed between Ardija and VFK, Saturday afternoon's clash at Saitama Stadium represents the most important Saitama derby since September 2007. 

On that day, an Omiya team battling its way up from the very foot of the table pulled off a brilliant 1-0 win over Urawa. Goalkeeper Koji Ezumi put in one of the best performances of his Squirrels career to keep Reds out, while Leandro's barging run past Marcus Tulio Tanaka and his sweet through ball that enabled Hiroshi Morita to score the winner will live long in the memory of all Ardija supporters. Those three points helped Omiya to turn the corner and ultimately scrape out of the bottom three to remain in J1, when for many months of boring football and pitiful results all had seemed lost. 

Right now, however, the 2011-vintage Squirrels team appears to be heading in exactly the opposite direction. It has been a characteristically rocky year with just the occasional highlight, such as the excellent 3-1 win over Kashiwa Reysol, but the lows have been a lot more numerous and very worryingly the lowest of those lows have occurred in the last two matches. With only a Kota Ueda free kick to show for 210 minutes of football against the poorest side in J1 and a bunch of college kids, Jun Suzuki's team have been almost completely absent as an attacking force. 

At the other end the defence seems in disarray: always likely to concede and, at a basic level, quite simply not up to the standard required to compete in the top division. Of the players in and around Suzuki's current starting team, even a generous assessment would conclude that Yosuke Kataoka, Arata Sugiyama, Kazuhiro Murakami and Daigo Watanabe are not good enough, that Yuki Fukaya is too slow and Kim Young Gwon has been a major disappointment. Couple that with the rumoured start against Urawa of out-of-favour - for a good reason - midfielder Hayato Hashimoto and it is easy to see why Omiya could be heading for J2. 

Can Ardija do it, against an Urawa who somehow have not yet fired Zeljko Petrovic? Despite a million and one misgivings, not to mention the recent Nabisco Cup win for Reds at NACK5, it is not completely impossible to imagine a Squirrels win, or at least a breathlessly tedious 0-0 draw. After all, the Urawa squad also contains too many mediocre and/or under-performing players. But if the Omiya defence has become utterly unreliable, we need a big-match display from our key creative players. Ueda, we need your vision and accuracy. Keigo Higashi, we need your speed, touch and aggression. Even you, Chikara Fujimoto, we need your imagination - and you owe us. Rafael, we need your goals. Come on Omiya.

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