Saturday, 19 November 2011

Kashima Preview


Omiya enter the closing straight of the 2011 season knowing that a point in Saturday's match against Kashima Antlers is almost a guarantee of J1 survival for another year. The last round of matches fully two and a half weeks ago did Ardija a massive favour in the fight to avoid the drop, the Squirrels scrambling a win at Kawasaki Frontale thanks to Keigo Higashi's early goal, while nearest rivals Urawa Reds and Ventforet Kofu were both losing. Those three results shifted the balance hugely in favour of Omiya and so now, even if Jun Suzuki's team fail to draw with Kashima, they in fact will still be safe if Kofu don't beat Jubilo Iwata. The pressure, in other words, is to a great extent off Ardija and on Reds and Ventforet.

Which is pretty lucky, really, because it's a weak-looking Squirrels team that is likely to take to the field against the Antlers, Yahoo predicting an unusual 4-1-4-1 formation in the absence due to U22 international duty of Higashi. The preferred option must be that Daigo Watanabe slots in at right back while Suzuki's wide men of choice seem now to be Lee Chun Soo and... Hayato Hashimoto, a man who up until a few weeks ago seemed unlikely ever to play for Omiya ever again. Mind you, we thought that about Yosuke Kataoka - with good reason, I mean the club actually sold him for cash money - and look what happened there. If you dare.

Someone who also seems unlikely to play for Omiya ever again is Rodrigo Pimpao, who departed for Brazil on Friday on the basis that his injury will prevent him from participating in any of the remaining league fixtures. Given that his contract expires at the end of the calendar year, the 24-year-old can fundamentally be regarded now as an ex-Squirrel: someone who started six games, made three brief substitute appearances, never played a full ninety minutes and scored just a single goal, on his debut against Vegalta Sendai. It's a shame to see his Ardija career come to an end like this, having been stretchered off in a training game, but in truth it never really happened at NACK5 for Pimpao.

Not that NACK5 has been that much of a hunting ground for Omiya during the course of the season, of course. An unbelievable one home win all year underlines the problem that Jun Suzuki has faced in reaching the club's target of 50 J1 points and, even though the 2011-vintage Kashima is way off the standard of previous Antlers teams, they will still provide a difficult test for the fragile Ardija. And so in a strange kind of way the closing straight of the season actually leads towards the more intriguing prospect of the winter buying and selling, as preparations begin for 2012. Who's going to get cut from the Omiya squad? That's something we'll be taking a look at here at GGOA over the next few days.

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