Omiya Ardija return to league action on Saturday with one of the most eagerly-awaited fixtures in the calendar - but Urawa Reds away surely could not have come at a tougher time for coach Toshiya Miura and his increasingly beleaguered squad. With most attention having been given to the failings of the team's front players to gel effectively and come up with a respectable number of chances and end product, it is the apparent inability to deal with defensive weaknesses that have cost Ardija results in both of their last two outings against Oita Trinita and Jubilo Iwata.
And while no-one would deny that competition for places is healthy, there is the danger that this can spill over into uncertainty and insecurity amongst the players as Miura chops and changes both his team selection and the formations into which he asks squad members to fit. "We obviously made a lot of changes for the Jubilo game and, especially in the first half, it worked out very well in terms of retaining possession in the middle of the field," said the Squirrels coach.
"Looking ahead to the derby game, there's always a fantastic atmosphere and the players and supporters tend to feed off each other. Urawa aren't top of the table at the moment but you have to say that they're the strongest side in the league and that they don't really have any weak points."
So while there are question marks all round as far as the Ardija line-up goes, a further issue that will have fans furrowing their brows is the so-called Curse of Hiroshima. For with Sanfrecce enduring a disastrous start to the season and on Saturday scheduled to visit Yokohama F Marinos, it may conceivably fall to Omiya on Wednesday next week to get to grips with the hoodoo of relegation that has affected the teams first beaten by Hiroshima during the course of a season. To whit:
In 1999 J1 4th match - Hiroshima 4-1 Urawa (Urawa were relegated) In 2000 J1 3rd match - Hiroshima 1-0 Kawasaki (Kawasaki were relegated) In 2001 J1 3rd match - Hiroshima 1-0 Sapporo (Sapporo weren't relegated in 2001, but in 2002...) In 2002 J1 1st match - Hiroshima 5-1 Sapporo (Sapporo were relegated) In 2003 J2 2nd match - Hiroshima 4-3 Tosu (Tosu finished bottom of J2) In 2004 J1 8th match - Hiroshima 2-1 Cerezo (Cerezo finished 15th, but no team was relegated due to the increase in the number of J1 teams) In 2005 J1 5th match Hiroshima 4-1 Verdy (Verdy were relegated)