Omiya Ardija wrapped up their training camp with a 3-0 victory over J2 side Vissel Kobe on Tuesday, the match being played over 45 mins x 2 and 30 mins x 1. It was Saul Martinez who opened the scoring in the 18th minute with a tap-in after the keeper had dropped a left-wing corner, and seven minutes into the second period the same player made it 2-0, using his lightning pace to latch onto a through ball from Kazuyoshi Mikami and score. A further set-piece led to the third goal, when Tatsunori Hisanaga headed in a corner from the right-hand side.
Despite the good result, however, coach Toshiya Miura was not entirely pleased with the performance against Kobe. "When we think about the new season and the fact that we're aiming a fair bit higher than in 2005, well - we're not going to win games if we fail to be decisive, accurate and to take our chances," he commented, despite the brace from Martinez. But during the main ninety minutes of the match, with a strong Squirrels side, it's nevertheless true to say that several other opportunities went begging.
Yoshiyuki Kobayashi in action vs Kobe
Miura's dissatisfaction with this has its roots in last year, when following the abrupt departure of Christian, Ardija went on that disastrous run of seven consecutive defeats that almost cost them their J1 status - and which came about largely due to a failure to find the net when chances were still being created. The midfield against Kobe were solid and quick to look for the opportunity to counter attack, but the accuracy of the final ball and of shots at goal was frustrating for the Squirrels' coach. "It's just the fact that we didn't achieve all we could have done on the attack that I'm not happy with," he said, "but overall it's been a good trip and I'm in one of those situations now that coaches love to be in - I've got eighteen or so players who are at a similar level with no weak links."
And as the new star striker, much inevitably rests on the shoulders of Saul Martinez, who made his longest appearance yet in an orange shirt when he played for 78 minutes against Kobe. "Through the training and the matches, it's all helped me to get back to work and to focus on scoring. Self-confidence for a player like me comes from scoring, so to get a goal like the second one today really gives me a boost - a great ball from Mikami, using my pace to get away from my marker."
The Honduran international was not 100% fit when the camp began and progress at first was slow - but things gradually improved and in half an hour against Niigata on 9th, he managed his first goal for the club. Martinez then played a similar length of time in both the games with Verdy and in spite of failing to find the net his runs and dribbles were an element of Omiya's play that caught the eye. "I'm still not quite completely fit, but it's getting pretty close now and I can't wait to start the season," commented Speedy.
Squirrels' new signing from Vissel, Naoya Saeki
One man somewhat in the background of pre-season preparations has been Naoto Sakurai. Having experienced an injury-hit first season with his hometown club, Sakurai was unfortunate enough to pick up a further injury to the ligaments in his right knee during what turned out to be the last game of 2005, the Emperor's Cup semi-final against Nagoya Grampus 8. It was agreed with Toshiya Miura that the former Verdy player would attend the Guam camp as part of his rehabilitation, but that actual playing time in the scheduled practice matches would be limited - and the current state of affairs is that Sakurai is still some way short of full fitness, but he hopes to be ready when the season begins.
Naoya Saeki, meanwhile, has proved to be one of the most immediately impressive new members of the 2006 Omiya squad, and he's clearly found the experience of attending training camp with his new colleagues to be beneficial. "When we started out, you're really just trying to get to grips with a new situation, but now I feel as if I have a pretty solid understanding of things. If you look at the defensive midfield positions and players, it tends to be that the teams that are strong there are able to control games. What we're trying to do is to have a more attack-minded approach to our play in that part of the pitch, looking to make the dangerous pass and get into shooting positions if possible."