Omiya Ardija approach Thursday's Emperor's Cup semi-final clash with Urawa Reds on a wave of confidence, following well-fought victories over Nagoya Grampus 8 and Kashima Antlers - but with something of a selection crisis facing coach Toshiya Miura. Defensive lynchpin Toninho being back in Brazil on holiday, the team can ill afford to be without one of the other leading lights of the 2005 campaign when taking on a powerful Reds side; but the suspension of Chikara Fujimoto ensured that the Squirrels' training session on Wednesday was, to a greater or lesser extent, geared towards establishing who would slot into the team in place of their playmaker.
The diminutive Yusuke Shimada - consistently impressive on his rare appearances for the first team this year - looked good during practice as well, most notably with a superb free-kick during a training match. Nevertheless, he appears likely to be overlooked in favour either of Shin Kanazawa or Satoshi Yokoyama, neither of whom would be able to play as straight replacements for Fujimoto. "We'll make a decision about who to pick based on a plan for this specific game," said the typically cautious Miura afterwards.
It should be remembered, though, that an inexperienced all-Japanese Ardija line-up managed what was a deserved win over Kashima in the quarter-finals - one that earned praise from outgoing Antlers coach Toninho Cerezo for its organisation and self-discipline. Captain Seiichiro Okuno is set to return to the side and moreover, the mood among the players appears almost as high as it has ever been during the whole of 2005. An additional motivating factor is the fact that the game is to be screened on national TV, with the resulting opportunity to put Omiya's football in front of fans across Japan something that excites the players.
"Antlers were the best side we played all season and so to have beaten them in the last round by playing our own game has given us a lot of self-confidence," said Takuro Nishimura. "Now we can go on from there - and beating Urawa will mean that our name gets heard all round the country."