The J1 season burst back into life on a damp Wednesday evening at Komaba, as Jubilo Iwata arrived to challenge an Omiya Ardija side driven on by a potential new star of the Japanese game. In the crowd was national team coach-elect Ivica Osim, keen no doubt to see Daigo Kobayashi take a further step towards the international squad through what Squirrels fans hoped would be yet another demonstration of his vision, touch and ability.
Alongside Kobayashi in the Omiya line-up were Tatsunori Hisanaga in midfield with Yosuke Kataoka and Masato Saito occupying the more defensive central roles, as Jun Marques Davidson was dropped the the substitutes' bench, while Gral and Naoto Sakurai formed the front pairing.
Clouds over Komaba before kick-off
And it was Ardija who raced out of the starting blocks, with an aggressive brand of football that some supporters might have thought was simply not part of the Toshiya Miura repertoire. Daigo Kobayashi sent a sharp volley fizzing past the post just fifty seconds in and there were good set pieces not too far behind, as the Jubilo defence threatened to buckle under the pressure.
It took almost a quarter of an hour for the visitors to work their way into the game with any kind of sustained attacking moves, which ended with Ryoichi Maeda's dangerous free kick calling Hiroki Aratani into action. After 23 minutes, though, a pinpoint Daigo ball picked out Hisanaga on the left and a neat finish past World Cup keeper Yoshi Kawaguchi put Ardija into the lead.
Squirrels goal hero Tatsunori Hisanaga
Jubilo immediately went on the offensive, Jim Kin-Kyu again drawing a save from Aratani and in 28th minute Makoto Tanaka's shot hit the post following a corner. The ball was scrambled away, but Omiya were living dangerously in what was turning out to be a thrilling encounter, as both sides managed to find space in the midfield in order to piece together their attacks.
Immediately after the break, the Squirrels defence fell asleep to allow Fabricio to find Sho Naruoka inside the penalty area and the 22-year-old's shot beat Aratani in the corner to draw Jubilo level. While the visitors proceeded to have slightly more of the play, Kobayashi and Sakurai offered a threat of their own at the other end and it was clear that the next goal would be vital in deciding the match.
With five minutes remaining, Hisanaga played the ball into the danger zone, Tanaka fumbled for Sakurai to pounce - his shot beat Kawaguchi and Ardija had a vital lead. Jubilo threw everything forward to claim an equaliser as Miura replaced Sakurai with Yasunari Hiraoka to bolster the Omiya defence, but time ran out for the visitors and they were unable to get any more attempts in on goal.
Ewww, put it back on. Celebration, Sakurai-style
So the crowd of less than 6000 saw the Squirrels claim a 2-1 win over Jubilo Iwata, who since Ardija were promoted have become something of a bogey team, with four consecutive defeats having been inflicted in league and cup matches. "We knew this was a really big game for us,"commented Toshiya Miura. "Against JEF (in the first match of the season), we got off to a good start to the year and knew that today we had to be tough, strong and fast right from the start. Jubilo are always quick to pick up the second ball, so we had to compete with that. Overall, our attacking play had the tenacity I was looking for and the defence was satisfactory."