Just ’cos you’ve scored, Ienaga, you don’t need to look so cocky
In the last match before the six-week J1 summer break, Omiya Ardija's unbeaten record was brought to a crashing halt by league leaders Gamba Osaka at Komaba on Saturday afternoon. The Squirrels end what amounts to the first half of the campaign in the relegation play-off spot, two points behind fifteenth-placed Ventforet Kofu. But while Ardija were keen before kick-off to see how far they had come from the opening day of the season, when they narrowly lost at Gamba, the most obvious feature of today's match was that the Blue-and-Blacks have themselves improved to the point that they are far better than any other side that Omiya have played this year.
As such, there was only going to be one winner and Robert Verbeek's team got exactly what they deserved from the game. To say that the Squirrels were second best would be an injustice to a top notch Gamba side who repeatedly tore apart Ardija's defence and could have scored many more. The now familiar Verbeek tactic of grinding out a result based on defensive solidity was never likely to be successful in the face of the visitors' free-flowing attacking football.
Gamba's international midfielder Yasuhito Endo hit the bar with a free kick in the first half and came very close on another two occasions. But although Omiya managed to hold out for over an hour, it was no surprise when Akihiro Ienaga broke the deadlock by sliding home the first and Takahiro Futagawa then scored an almost identical goal in 79th minute.
Fresh as daisies, they are
The only real opportunity for Ardija to get on the scoresheet came half way through the second period, when substitute Hayato Hashimoto's 35-yard free kick flew over the bar. But at that stage, Omiya were already two down and a quick glance at the Squirrels' feeble 2007 scoring record would have revealed in an instant that the home side were never going to get back on level terms. Magno Alves finished things off near the end, but the final scoreline was if anything on the flattering side.
And so the Omiya squad now go into a two-week holiday period before regrouping in mid-July for a month of training prior to the next J1 match away at this year's bogey side, Shimizu S-Pulse. Looking ahead to the remainder of the season, what today's defeat underlines is that Gamba Osaka are clearly in a different league to Ardija in terms of football quality - and if the club management do not act quickly to provide Robert Verbeek with more ammunition in his squad, 2008 will see the Squirrels playing Cerezo Osaka in J2.
Click here to see Robert Verbeek's post-match press conference [in English]: