The fixture list for the 2005 season has now been released and Omiya Ardija supporters can start making plans to follow The Mighty Squirrels as they begin their J1 adventure. As was announced some time ago, the first match on Saturday 05 March is a tough one - away at last season's third place club, Gamba Osaka. The following weekend then sees Omiya play host to Vissel Kobe, although most unfortunately this match will be played not at the club's homely, soon-to-be-redeveloped Omiya Koen ground, but at the Saitama Stadium instead.
Following a short break for a couple of matches in the Nabisco Cup, 02 April finally sees Omiya Koen stage a J1 game, Cerezo Osaka providing the opposition. The season is eventually wrapped up with a home game against Yokohama F Marinos on 03 December. Most Omiya Ardija fans, though, will be looking out for the two Saitama derby games against rivals and 2004 Championship runners up Urawa Red Diamonds, and - as well as a pair of matches in the Nabisco Cup - these are scheduled for 09 July and 22 October, the first one notionally away but in fact to take place at the Saitama Stadium.
Omiya Ardija's new Brazilian striker Christian flew into Japan on Sat 29 Jan, and immediately got down to work with a training session and press conference on Sun 30. Following the long flight from Brazil, training at the club's facility in Shiki City was a straightforward enough workout of stretches and jogging for the 29-year-old sometime international, signed on a year's contract from Gremio. Later, in his introductory press conference, Christian described having come to Omiya in preference to accepting several offers from Europe.
Indeed, he already has extensive experience of playing outside his home country, having lined up for Maritimo, Estrela Amadora and Farense in Portugal, Bordeaux and Paris St Germain in France, and most recently for Turkish giants Galatasaray. His record, though, is somewhat mixed and there is no doubt that Omiya have taken a big gamble with the purchase of Christian. An enormous amount of responsibility for the survival of the club in the higher league rests on his shoulders, and it remains to be seen whether he is capable of fulfilling the role of reliable leader and goalscorer that coach Toshiya Miura and the other players require of him.
Two factors, however, weigh in his favour. Firstly, he's clearly aware of the fact that a good percentage of foreign players come to Japan and, in effect, fail to deliver the goods in their new environment. At the press conference, he spoke of his desire to avoid those pitfalls, to achieve good results for Omiya and so in the future be regarded as a foreigner who did, as they say, the business. Talk is cheap, of course, but at least this was good talk.
The second point - and one which might just help him where so many others have been found wanting - is that Omiya's recent record in looking after their imported players is good. Defensive lynchpin Toninho, for instance, is most unusual as a foreigner in Japanese football in that 2005 will be his fifth straight season with the club. Indeed, he clearly demonstrated how close Omiya Ardija has become to his heart when he openly cried on the pitch after promotion was sealed against Mito Hollyhock at the end of last season. It's to be hoped that Toninho and the third Brazilian member of the squad, striker Tuto, will aid Christian in settling in to Japanese life, because one thing is definitely sure - when the season starts in earnest, Omiya Ardija need their new man to hit the ground running.
As the squad prepares for its first ever season in J1, announcements have been made concerning the two pre-season practice camps to take place between now and the big kick-off away to Gamba Osaka on 05 March. The first will be held on the popular holiday island of Guam between 02 - 12 February, and will include friendlies against fellow J1 sides Oita Trinita (09 Feb) and Tokyo Verdy (11 Feb).
After returning to Japan, the players then head off on 16 Feb to Saito City in Miyazaki prefecture, where they will play no fewer than four matches before returning to Saitama on 22 Feb. The first game in Saito will be against a Japan U-20 side on 17 Feb, before taking on a team from the Korean K-League the next day. Then on 20 Feb, Omiya play old J2 rivals Vegalta Sendai, with J-League newcomers Thespa Kusatsu providing the last opposition on 22 Feb.
The next update from Go! Go! Omiya Ardija will include details of the arrival in Japan of Omiya's biggest signing of the close season - Brazilian striker Christian - together with a full rundown of the fixture list for the forthcoming season.
Omiya Ardija held a press conference on 27 Jan 05 to launch the forthcoming season, the first that the club will spend in J1. Following the One Way Ticket campaign that the club has adopted since gaining promotion at the tail end of the 2004 season, a new slogan was announced with great seriousness to the gathered local press: and so clearly it is by paying close attention to the single word 'Departure' that The Mighty Squirrels will seek to remain at the highest level of Japanese club football.
Four players who have joined the club during the close season were introduced to the media: Kazuyoshi Mikami (a defender from Oita Trinita), Chikara Fujimoto (an attacking midfielder from Vissel Kobe), Yosuke Kataoka (a young defender from Kokushikan University, formerly in the semi-pro / amateur JFL, the third-ranking level in the Japanese pyramid system) and Naoto Sakurai (a forward from Tokyo Verdy).