The 2008 Nabisco Cup competition gets underway on holiday Thursday this week, with Omiya Ardija travelling to Albirex Niigata for their opening fixture. The other game in Group D sees J1 highflyers Yokohama F Marinos and Oita Trinita matched up at Mitsuzawa. Ardija may have seen off Albirex relatively comfortably in the league encounter ten days ago - but after taking the lead at Kyoto on Sunday, Omiya were slow out of the blocks in the second half and were over-run by a Sanga side that scrapped out an equaliser before registering an inspired winning goal. The Squirrels' defence looked shaky for much of the ninety minutes, Terukazu Tanaka falling asleep for the first Kyoto goal and the whole of the back four generally failing to clear their lines effectively.
In the past, Omiya coaches have used the opportunity presented by the Nabisco Cup to try out younger players or modified formations, but whatever the plans of Yasuhiro Higuchi might be in this regard, it looks as though his hand will be forced by the injury to midfield man Chikara Fujimoto. The ex-captain was forced off after an hour at Sanga and worryingly reports that he's suffered knee ligament damage - a real blow, when considering that Fujimoto has had a promising beginning to the year and contributed an assist to Kota Yoshihara's goal. Tomoya Uchida will most likely step in, given that the other obvious candidate - Hayato Hashimoto - is also unavailable through injury.
Get at 'em, Daigo - Kobayashi in action during the J1 game against Albirex
Following on from their 2-0 loss at Omiya Park, Niigata suffered a catastrophic first eleven minutes of their game against FC Tokyo at the weekend and astonishingly even in that short space of time fell three goals behind. The Swans fought back with goals from defender Jun Uchida and star in the making Kisho Yano, but even so it has been a desperately disappointing start to 2008 for a team hoping to build on last year's sixth place finish. Higuchi's priority must be to ensure that Ardija's defence are well and truly over their glitch against Kyoto and keep the door locked to Yano and co.