If there is one team the thought of which throws Omiya Ardija supporters into a blind panic, it has to be Sunday's opponents Kawasaki Frontale. Since being promoted together at the end of 2004, the two clubs have experienced contrasting fortunes; while Omiya have struggled to assert themselves as a genuinely competitive top tier outfit, their rivals from Kanagawa have developed with astonishing rapidity to become one of the strongest sides in Japan.
In 2006, Kawasaki's pacey brand of attacking football brought them a second place finish, in which they outscored every other team in the country. This remarkable success was based on the prolific duo of Juninho and Kazuki Ganaha up front, midfield star Kengo Nakamura pulling the strings and the likes of chunky defenders Hiroki Ito and Yoshinobu Minowa at the back.
Luckily for Ardija, 29-year-old Juninho - who has notched up more than 100 goals in just four seasons - is suspended for Sunday's game after an undeserved sending off at Oita. But his compatriot Magnum is the team's top scorer so far in 2007 and Leandro and Daisuke Tomita, whose blossoming central defensive partnership has made a significant contribution to Omiya's recent improvement in the league, will need to be on absolute top form to keep out the Frontale goal machine.
That said, the Dolphins are known to let in some at the other end. Indeed, despite currently lying in third position in J1, Kawasaki have conceded two goals in their matches against Oita, Marinos, Gamba and Niigata this season and overall have a slightly worse defensive record than the Squirrels. The first half of Omiya's mid-week Nabisco Cup match nevertheless demonstrated the fact that Enilton, Salles, Kota Yoshihara, Hiroshi Morita and Manabu Wakabayashi - in other words, all of Ardija's front players - simply are not in possession of the knack of scoring.
Shimizu S-Pulse made Robert Verbeek's team pay for missed chances with three second half goals and quite clearly, even without Juninho, Kawasaki are more than capable of doing the same thing. And to put pressure on Oita and JEF United in the battle to avoid relegation, the Squirrels on Sunday will need to be at their absolute best at both ends of the pitch.