After last week's disappointing defeat via a single goal in the opening seconds of the match against FC Tokyo, Omiya Ardija return to action this Sunday in the unlikely surrounds of Akita prefecture, where - in line with the JFA's bizarre policy for staging Emperor's Cup matches - they participate for the first time this season in Japan's premier knock-out competition. Their opponents are not, as one might imagine, Tohoku League champions and local favourites TDK Akita, but rather the Toyama-based corporate JFL side YKK AP. Riding high in the semi-pro third tier, there is little doubt that YKK are exactly the kind of side that a so-called bigger club currently experiencing a crisis of confidence would want to avoid.
Squirrels striker Manabu Wakabayashi played YKK on a number of occasions when with Tochigi SC and observed, "For some reason we always tended to beat YKK by a single goal when I played against them with Tochigi, but they were a good side - a team who really don't like to lose games. They finished second in the JFL last year and are third at the moment, and in Mitsuru Hasegawa have a decent player, a striker who links up well with the midfield. At Tochigi we were always wary of Hiroki Kishida as well, because YKK are a team whose strengths lie in attack."
All the indications are that Ardija coach Toshiya Miura will face the challenge of overcoming non-league opposition by making at least some modifications. Formations adopted in training would suggest that although Alison and Daigo Kobayashi will continue up front, Hayato Hashimoto is to come in for Tatsunori Hisanaga for a rare first-team start in midfield, with Takuro Nishimura taking Yasuhiro Hato's defensive position.
But remarks such as, "We'd like to give more of an opportunity to players on the fringe of the first team, balancing with that desire that fact that we want to win a game against a JFL team and take that back into our league form," would seem to add weight to suggestions that the likes of U21 international squad member Terukazu Tanaka may even get a call-up. What a shame that so few Omiya supporters will get the chance to see it at first hand.