If Zico's watching the orange half of Saitama, he might just find that Daigo Kobayashi has this season been making a heroic bid for a place in the Japan squad for Germany '06. Following his transfer during the winter from relegated Tokyo Verdy 1969, Kobayashi has lit up Omiya Ardija's year so far, with assist after assist and four goals of his own, almost single-handedly ensuring that the Squirrels' points tally has been greater so far than their performances have at time deserved. In fact he had a quiet game on Saturday against Yokohama F Marinos, but like all players of genuine quality, Daigo can be dangerous just when it looks as if he's scarcely engaging with the game at all.
Opening the scoring, Naoto Sakurai
Fourteen minutes from the end of the match with the score at 1-1, he received the ball fully thirty metres from goal and simply lashed it past Marinos keeper Tatsuya Enomoto, winning the game for Ardija and potentially providing a jab in the ribs for the coach of the Japanese national team. But aside from that single stunning moment, it was a battling team display from Toshiya Miura's men as the coach reverted to the eleven that had started the Gamba Osaka match.
Yosuke Kataoka partnered Jun Marques Davidson in central midfield, Chikara Fujimoto and Daigo played the wide roles while Naoto Sakurai supported Hiroshi Morita as the front pair. With Kota Yoshihara on the subs' bench, there was no place anywhere in the squad for either Saul Martinez or Naoya Saeki, the latter in particular so impressive in the midweek Nabisco Cup clash at Jubilo Iwata.
Marinos having begun the season in fine form but conceivably wavering of late, the Squirrels were especially keen to make a more dynamic start to the match than has generally been the case so far this year. Yasuhiro Hato and Yukio Tsuchiya were both eager - perhaps even over-eager - to get forward as overlapping wingbacks, trying to work with Fujimoto and Sakurai in developing attacks.
The visitors were somewhat pushed back in the opening minutes, but moved more into the game as former Nagoya Grampus 8 forward Marques became increasingly involved, along with young midfielder Hayuma Tanaka. Nevertheless, Omiya managed to get forward on occasions and Morita had a golden opportunity thirteen minutes in a one-one-one against Enomoto that went begging.
Kubo climbs above the Squirrels defence to equalise
In 32nd minute, Sakurai received the ball in the middle from Daigo, wriggled away from Magrao and fired in an attempt on goal, which was somewhat luckily deflected past the keeper by Yuzo Enomoto: Omiya had the lead, a rare and precious circumstance indeed in 2006. But it was to last only a matter of five minutes or so, as Ardija's inability to defend at set pieces returned to haunt them yet again and Tatsuhiko Kubo nodded home the equaliser for his third goal of the season. With the Squirrels having conceded such a soft goal, the initiative was handed to Marinos and it was the 2004 J-League champions who started the second period on the front foot, Kubo and Takayuki Yoshida looking particularly dangerous for Seiichiro Okuno and Toninho at the back for Omiya.
But despite lacking the sense of purpose that the team's first half display had demonstrated, the orange back line held firm, denying their visitors in grey the chance to take the lead and always looking to feed Fujimoto and set up counter attacks. With twenty minutes remaining, Toshiya Miura played a vital tactical card, replacing goalscorer Sakurai with the fresh legs and pace of Kota Yoshihara, to the delight of the Squirrels supporters keen to see one of the club's major signings for the first time at home. And the former Gamba Osaka star injected mobility and speed into Omiya's attacking play, Morita going close on 75 minutes before Yoshihara's run freed up Daigo for his sensational strike to put Ardija in front just a few seconds later.
Daigo socks it to those dirty Marinos
Marinos pressed forward in search of a second equaliser, but Miura firmed things up at the back by taking off hero Kobayashi for Masato Saito to provide extra cover and the Squirrels hung on for a vital victory. "We really wanted the win today," said the Squirrels coach afterwards, "after having played okay and ended up with nothing against Kashima and Jubilo. But the players held on to their self-confidence for today's game. Dutra and Marques were always dangerous for Marinos - they're the kinds of players who make chances - but we knew we could cause them some problems by making the most of the space. The players were disciplined and aggressive today, which pleased me a lot."
Goalscorer Naoto Sakurai agreed that Omiya had believed beforehand that opportunities would come there way. "Good opposition, yes, but we knew we'd get chances in the match," he commented. "I think there was a feeling that the result was finally going to go our way. And we attacked today, that's what we try to do as a team."Yoshihara's appearance as a substitute was more than promising and his enthusiasm to make a success of this new part of his career is obvious.
"I think because of the way the game had gone up until that point, my plan was to run with the ball as much as possible," said the former Japan international. "That seemed to me to be the best way to get behind them and make scoring opportunities. It was finely balanced at 1-1, but I thought coming on from the bench that some decent movement could make holes in their defence."
Solid as a rock, Toninho
But it is around Daigo Kobayashi that the Squirrels' play now revolves. Ardija fans will be hoping that his goal marks a turning point in the season, by which the team can have more of a belief in their ability to integrate and form a solid unit; that they can go on and win matches that previously would have been beyond them. Said the New King of Orange, "We'd discussed beforehand how important it was to put in a positive first-half performance and so we tried to be aggressive and to get forward. It was a good performance today - we played well and we got the points, and we can go on from here."
Omiya Ardija has mixed memories for myself.It was the place where I spent a sun drenched afternoon watching a cracking game of football in April last season.A tight,packed stadium in a great setting,great atmosphere. Verdy very narrowly escaped with the points after a nerve jangling 3-2 win. We had gone 2-0 up both goals coming from Washington (one a penalty) in the first half and looked to be cruising. For me, this game signalled what was going to follow later in the season. Omiya pulled a goal back early in the second half,but Machida came on as sub and extended the lead to 3-1. What happened next can only be described as suicide, Verdy spent the next 30 minutes camped inside their own half, their butter like defence unable to stop wave after wave of attacks from the men in Orange!! This from a team who were 3-1 up and had been cruising previously. Anyway Omiya pulled another goal back and it looked like they would be good for the draw, however two missed GOLDEN opportunities, the lanky striker (Morito??) had scored one but missed a SITTER to take a point!! Verdy were safe. We had our hearts in our mouths that day... Former Verdians in the ranks include the Kobayashis and Sakurai. Aside from Soma and Washington,I`d say Daigo Kobayashi was our third biggest loss in pre season.Maybe now second as Soma has since been left to rot in the reserves of Urawa and Daigo is currently tearing up Omiya. He had been a regular starter for the previous two seasons and had impressed greatly going forward,he can beat a man and a has good eye for a pass.Defensively I don`t think he`s particularly strong,but who cares if he`s banging in the goals as he is at the moment.Also he`s still relatively young and if he continues making the progress he has this year,there is no way he can`t be considered for a call up to the national team.Probably not to start,but certainly to be around the set up. As for Yoshiyuki Kobayashi,I didn`t think he was much of a loss,tidy if not spectacular.He never did much for us but seems to be more than enjoying himself in Saitama. Every team needs its workers.While the glory boys take the plaudits,the workers stay quietly in the background.Kobayashi fitted into this role I thought.Never spectacular and occasionally diabolical, he was Verdy after all!! Finally to Sakurai. A real mystery here. I can`t for the life of me figure why he isnt playing for us!! I don`t think he was ever given a real chance. I specifically remember him having a blinder against the Marions in 2003. It was a game played in a summer storm at Nissan Stadium. Verdy had put on a stunning first half performance to find themselves 3-0 down at the break. However,second half we somehow managed to fightback with a goal from Mboma and two from Sakurai. He played a blinder in this second half and I can remember thinking we have a decent young striker here to compliment Mboma.He was quick,mobile full of energy and could obviously find the target. However, Landro and subsequently Ardiles seemed to prefer Hiramoto,Iio,Morimoto or anybody else than Sakurai.Subsequently he was loaned out.Same as Marquinos. Never understood why,for me he was very capable.Anyway I consider Daigo and Sakurai as a definate Omiya gain/Verdy loss and Yoshiyuki Kobayashi as evens. I also find a lot of similars between Ventforet Kofu`s media profile this season and Omiya`s the year they went up. Both teams were considered dead certs for relegation. Omiya stayed up relatively easily and Kofu are going about their business in the right manner also. There is no divine right to be in J1 as we found out last year. You have to work very hard to stay up and even moreso to do well.I wish Omiya all the luck (though they dont seem to need luck at the moment) and congratulations on a great win over the Marions at the weekend.