Sunday brings Omiya Ardija's final home game of the 2008 season, as Kyoto Sanga make the trip to Saitama to take on a Squirrels side who have been performing with some confidence and resilience - but who potentially go into the match without two key first teamers. Defensive lynchpin Leandro is suspended, after an extraordinary ninety minutes at Niigata in which the big Brazilian was perhaps unlucky to concede a penalty via which Albirex took the lead, got a yellow card in the process and then two minutes from time headed in Yasuhiro Hato's cross for an equaliser.
Given that Chikara Fujimotoalso looks set to miss out after going off injured against the Swans, coach Yasuhiro Higuchi has a critical re-shuffle on his hands. Ardija have found some stability in recent weeks despite the absence of Yoshiyuki Kobayashi and Denis Marques, but Higuchi's squad for the Kyoto game at least is increasingly stretched. Captain Yoshiyuki may return in the centre of midfield, but that makes less likely the appearance of the more creative Daigo Kobayashi at the heart of the Omiya team.
Sanga commenced their first season back in J1 well, including in their good start a 2-1 win over the Squirrels that included a superb clincher by midfielder Daigo Watanabe. But while it appeared as if the purchase of high-profile players such as Atsushi Yanagisawa and Yuto Sato had enabled Kyoto to establish themselves as a top flight side, they travel to Omiya with only one win in eight. And although that victory at Yokohama F Marinos probably means that Sanga are safe from relegation, they are still only three points off the play-off place currently occupied by Verdy.
However Yasuhiro Higuchi chooses to play things with his threadbare group of players, three points against Sanga would constitute a giant step towards confirmed safety. It would also serve to relieve some of the pressure of the final game at fellow relegation strugglers Jubilo Iwata. The closeness of the league standings means that every individual point is valuable in the fight to stay above Albirex, Verdy, JEF United and Jubilo.