Omiya Ardija's Nabisco Cup glory trail begins on Wednesday night at the Yamaha Stadium, where they face a Jubilo Iwata side keen to get back on track after losing 1-0 last week in their opening match in the tournament against Cerezo Osaka. With Ventforet Kofu picking up a fine 3-1 win at Nagoya Grampus 8 on the same evening - including, inevitably, a goal from Bare - it has all the makings of a difficult encounter for the Squirrels.
Jubilo will be very hard pushed to make progress in the competition if they lose again and so will be going all out to continue their good run of results against Omiya, stretching back to a pair of straightforward 2-0 wins in the league last season. Their form in J1 so far this season has been patchy indeed, but at the weekend they came away from Kyushu with all three points as Sho Naruoka's scrappy last minute effort clinched a 2-1 win over Oita Trinita.
Sho Naruoka v Oita. Haven't Jubilo got a horrible away kit?
In last season's Nabisco Cup competition, meanwhile, Ardija battled through their group against Urawa Reds, Albirex Niigata and Vissel Kobe before falling at the first hurdle in the knock-out stage, where they were brushed aside with home-and-away defeats by Yokohama F Marinos. Coach Toshiya Miura has stated his aim of going for a last eight placing and then trying to better last year's quarter-final showing from there.
"So the Jubilo game tomorrow is just like a normal match: we go out 100% focused on winning," he commented "They're a top rank team, one of the best in J1, as shown by the fact they beat us twice last year. We've come out of the match at Kashima on Sunday with some real positives, despite the result, and are looking forward to playing a good game at Jubilo."
"We're well-prepared to cope with the challenge of playing two games in such a short space of time and are well-motivated to compete against Jubilo," defender Daisuke Tomita said. "I managed to get a goal last year in the first Nabisco Cup match against Niigata, but for tomorrow the priority is still to keep a clean sheet. Following on from the Kashima game, that means improving our concentration at set pieces and especially aiming not to concede first half. Our possession has got better, though, and we think we can make goalscoring opportunities."
What? Training? It's just not fair!
While the first team squad on Tuesday were preparing for the Jubilo game, they were joined for the first time by their new team-mate Gral. The controversial Brazilian striker - coincidentally formerly with Jubilo, but signed on loan until the end of July from Marinos - has apparently participated in only a limited amount of training in recent months and will therefore take four weeks or so before he is ready to play for the Squirrels for the first time. This means that a debut for the 43-goal forward might take place in the league against Urawa Reds, Sanfrecce Hiroshima or FC Tokyo in a busy period of matches at the end of April and beginning of May.