Miura's Strong Squad Can Get It Right Against Marinos
The games keep coming thick and fast for Omiya Ardija, and on the back of their third successive defeat in the midweek Nabisco Cup match at Jubilo Iwata, the team this weekend return at last to Saitama and a home clash against Yokohama F Marinos. The 2004 J-League champions got off to a tremendous start to this year's J1 campaign, winning their first four games with new five-goal striker Magrao immediately launching himself as a star in the making. But they were comprehensively outplayed by Urawa Reds in round five and in an error-strewn encounter with FC Tokyo last week eventually conceded in the last minute to drop two more points and fall to third in the table.
Magrao, about to be strangled by Dutra after scoring against Cerezo Osaka. Weird
The Squirrels, meanwhile, find themselves in a quandary, as their sluggish early season form shows signs of picking up, but the defence is still conceding sloppy goals and the attack is still finding it difficult to create a large number of scoring opportunities per match. Nevertheless, Toshiya Miura is in a more or less perfect situation on paper, with only Tatsunori Hisanaga unavailable through injury meaning that the Ardija coach has an almost full strength squad to choose from.
The Jubilo match provided an opportunity for Saul Martinez to reassert a claim for a first team place - getting in two shots on goal in just ten minutes as a late substitute - Kota Yoshihara is back to full fitness and desperate to score and Naoya Saeki has also emerged as a genuine contender for a starting place in central midfield.
"Looking back at the Jubilo game, we played a very good first half and were the better side," said Miura. "I knew it would be necessary to change things round in terms of line-up, but at the same time I was confident that the people coming in could do a good job in a competitive match. In the end we lost, but it's convinced me that overall we have a stronger squad than we did twelve months ago. We're on a bit of a losing streak at the moment, but the performances are getting better and the results will follow."
Chikara Fujimoto raised an interesting point about a couple of characteristics of what is a new Squirrels team. "The new players have particularly had a good effect on our ability to keep possession and to move forward into attacking positions. What I don't think we've done effectively enough, though, is to put into practice those things that you know that the opposition don't like: re-directing play and really putting teams on the back foot, making defenders turn and feel uncomfortable, under pressure."
Chikara Fujimoto urges on his team-mates against Kashima Antlers
Kota Yoshihara is coming out of a frustrating period of injury as a key, experienced member of the Omiya squad, looking to banish the memory of 2005 with a positive season this year. However keen to achieve success the former Consadole Sapporo and Gamba Osaka forward might be, he's still cautious about the team's development so far. "We're at the stage of the season where there's still a bit of trial and error about the way that the team play - but the best is yet to come from this Omiya side," he commented.
"Personally, I'm feeling in great shape now, but I'm not satisfied with my performances in the Kashima and Jubilo games. I didn't get in enough attempts on goal and I don't think my link-up play with the rest of the team is really good enough yet, either. It's important to try and put that right against Marinos - my home debut - especially because my next goal will be my fiftieth in J1."