Speaking after Wednesday's Nabisco Cup victory over Yokohama F Marinos, goalscorer Daigo Kobayashi described having gone for lunch just prior to kick-off with team-mates Hayato Hashimoto and Chikara Fujimoto. During their conversation, which unsurprisingly revolved around the problems that Omiya Ardija have encountered this season, Fujimoto reportedly commented that he as captain was particularly aware of his responsibilities to lead the other players and was frustrated at what he perceived as a lack of success in doing so. The meal finished with the trio agreeing that this was truly a must-win game, Daigo later saying that he was almost in tears in the dressing room following the final whistle and confirmation that the Squirrels had broken their duck for the year.
Whatever the difficulties surrounding Robert Verbeek's arrival in Saitama, no-one has had cause to question the commitment of the players - and indeed, the Dutchman was keen in his post-match press conference on Wednesday to pay tribute to the hard work being put in by the squad at training every day. For there are glimmers of hope for Ardija ahead of the match with Kashiwa Reysol at Komaba on Sunday, in the shape of the re-emergence as a first-team player of Kota Yoshihara and a confidence-boosting first goal of 2007 for last year's star Daigo.
Daigo sees off those pesky Marinos
The Squirrel Nation will therefore be hoping that these promising signs continue to blossom against Kashiwa, before the J1 campaign re-starts a week on Saturday at home to Shimizu S-Pulse. But this is not to say that Verbeek is out of the woods just yet, as the area of the team now causing major concerns is the centre of the back four, where both Leandro and Seiichiro Okuno face a spell on the sidelines through injury.
Luckily, in Daisuke Tomita there is a replacement with some considerable experience, although most of his playing time has been at the side of the defence. But assuming that he continues to partner Yosuke Kataoka after the pair contributed to a first clean sheet of the year in the Marinos match, Sunday's encounter looks likely to be more of a challenge.
Alceu celebrates his Nabisco Cup goal against S-Pulse
For neighbours Reysol have sprinted out of the traps after gaining promotion back to J1 at the end of last year. Their first game ended in a sensational 4-0 thrashing of Jubilo Iwata, with two goals apiece coming from Franca and a new signing from J2 minnows Ehime FC, Minoru Suganuma. After a draw against Sanfrecce Hiroshima, the Sun Kings proceeded to see of Jubilo's rivals Shimizu S-Pulse twice in a matter of days, once in the league and then again in their Nabisco Cup game in midweek.
While they may have been on the lucky side with one or two refereeing decisions during the course of their matches thus far, Kashiwa's lively attacking style is exactly the sort of football that Omiya generally find sets them on the back foot. A tough encounter indeed can therefore be expected for Sunday - but let's hope that Daigo and friends go out to eat together again before the match.