Friday, 14 March 2014

Ardija versus Nagoya Grampus

On a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon, 8th March 2014, I went along to Nack 5 stadium to watch the Squirrels take on Nagoya Grampus. To be honest I was lacking confidence, even with Grampus having lost their opening season game 3-2 at home to S Pulse. Ironically they had lost to a goal fired in by former Ardija favourite Novakovic. Furthermore Nagoya were also getting used to a new manager in Akira Nishino, who had replaced Stoijkovic. A crowd of just under 10,000 gathered at the stadium, suggesting that a lack of optimism for the new season had spread to the fans who had been enticed in when the team had been sitting on top of J1 under coach Verdenik.

Omiya set up 4-4-2 which was a change from the first game when we had started the game with just one up front. The change in personnel was Zlatan coming in for Cho. The first half was very disappointing for Omiya. I cannot remember any serious effort on the Grampus goal. Worse still, the passing was poor, teammates didn't seem to be able to find each other, and control was often poor too. It did not make good watching for Ardija fans.

 Nagoya played the better football in what was in all honesty a lacklustre first half. Tulio was hardly troubled in defence at all. Danilson looked strong, driving forward. Kennedy and Tamada were probing in the Omiya penally area, but as yet to no effect. At half-time it was 0-0.

The second half began in much the same way and on the 53rd minute Nagoya got the breakthrough that had seemed to be coming for a while. Kennedy played a neat pass through to Tamada. The Omiya defenders stood and called for an offside decision, which was not forthcoming, and Tamada had the freedom of our penalty box to finish smartly.

Omiya were still struggling to launch any serious attacks, yet it was Nagoya who made the first changes to their team with a double substitution on the 61st minute. Nagai came on for Edamura and Taguchi came on for Isomura. A few minutes later and Grampus extended their lead, when a rare Ardija period of possession broke down just outside the Grampus penalty box, from the defensive tackle the ball went to Ogawa deep in the Nagoya half, but he was able to run the length of the pitch almost unchallenged and finished easily past goalkeeper Shimizu. Kikuchi tried to make a challenge on Ogawa as he got into our penalty box, but just stumbled and fell over, making Ogawa's finish even simpler.

Strangely enough, going 2-0 down at home, finally brought some better play from the Squirrels. The team managed to keep possession longer and start to stretch the Grampus defence. At last that defence was breached in the 70th minute when Takahashi finished off a neat Ardija move, and put the ball home from close in on goal. The fans started to believe that just maybe a draw was possible.

Omiya continued to pressure and Carlinhos was brought on for the disappointing Kataoka, and made a real difference in the midfield. He brought a measure of composure and control to the midfield. With Hasegawa coming on for Kanazawa we had 3 tall strikers on the pitch, and started to launch crosses which unfortunately were dealt with very well by Tulio, who most times managed to get a clearing head on the ball. Then deep in additional time Carlinhos sent a deep cross over, which evaded the heads of the Nagoya defence, Hasegawa managed to head it across and Takahashi put the ball in the back of the net to the delight of the home fans. However that delight swiftly turned to disappointment as the linesman's flag was raised for offside and the referee disallowed the goal, and very soon the final whistle went and Ardija had lost 2-1 to Grampus. Watching replays of the disallowed goal, I think the decision, though marginal, was correct

So Omiya have lost their opening two games. Obviously this is not a good situation to be in, and as soon as I left the stadium I began to check results elsewhere. This could be a regular feature of this season, as I expect the relegation struggle to be tight. It is disappointing to feel the extent of our ambition is to hope those around us drop points. Already many pundits are suggesting Tokushima will go straight back down. If that is the case, Ardija are fighting to avoid two spots. Can we do it? On the positive side, the last twenty minutes were better. But then again, what came before was pretty poor. The players have to work hard in training, because on the pitch they still look like they are getting to know each other.  The most impressive player for Ardija in this game was the Brazilian Carlinhos, and he didn't enter the game until the 71st minute!

Next up for Omiya is an away game against Kawasaki Frontale. Although Frontale are only in 14th position at the moment, they have some good players and Ardija will have to improve on this performance, if they are to pick up their first points of the season. I would like to see Carlinhos start the next match. Finally, what has happened to Tomiyama?

Come on you Squirrels!!!

Team - Shimizu

Subs  Carlinhos for Kataoka 71'
          Izumisawa for Murakami 80'
          Hasegawa for Kanazawa 83'

Crowd: 9980

Conditions: Sunny, dry

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Opening Day of the season

Omiya Ardija kicked off their campaign for the 2014 season with an away game against last season's runners-up Yokohama F Marinos at Nissan stadium in Yokohama in Kanagawa just south of the nation's capital, Tokyo on Sunday March 2nd 2014.

Omiya lost the game 2-0. Yokohama F Marinos opened the scoring with a goal through new signing Jungo Fujimoto in the 17th minute of the first half.

The goal was a well taken left footed shot from the edge of the penalty box after a devastating run from Manabu Saito which left defenders in his wake until the final challenge, which rebounded the ball to Fujimoto and he finished. Saito has been a real thorn in the side of Ardija during recent contests. Avery good player whom one wonders if he will get a real chance in the national team.

After half time Ardija started to improve but never really threatened the Yokohama goal seriously and Marinos had the better chances including an Ito header off the crossbar from a free kick .

 The result was put beyond doubt with Ito's 87th minute goal. The ball was cleared by Ardija to the midfield but possession was lost far too easily. From the challenge the ball went straight to Ito and he turned, took a touch and fired in from 30 yards out. A stunning strike to kill the game off. The game finished 2-nil to Yokohama F Marinos.

Here is the Ardija line up that started the game;

Young-Cheol Cho

Zlatan came on for Radoncic in the 53rd minute
Izumisawa came on for Cho in the 74th minute
Hasegawa came on for Kanazawa in the 75th minute

The crowd was 23, 166. The conditions were rainy and wet.

It was the first game under a new regime and with some new players in the line up. I don't think it's the right time to panic yet. With Vortis Tokushima and Ventforet Kofu both being thrashed and Vegalta Sendai losing at home 2-1 under a new manager to Albirex Nigata, I think we are already getting a good idea of the teams which we will be competing against to maintain our J1 status. It's early days yet and let us hope that this squad of players can work hard and forge new and succesful partnerships under the leadership of coach Okuma to preserve our treasured position in the top flight of Japanese professional football.

 The next game on this journey is at home to Nagoya Grampus on Saturday March  8th at 3pm.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Visit to Omiya Ardija's training ground

On Sunday February 23rd I went for the first time to Omiya Ardija's training ground. The ground is situated a short ten minute walk from Nishi Omiya station on the Saikyo line. It's very easy to find. Just walk out of the station, go past the Saitama Sakae school and follow the pavement which is called Ardy way and you cannot miss it. I'm going to post a few photographs of my morning there for you to enjoy.
The atmosphere at the ground was friendly and relaxed. On this particular day the training session, which started at 11am, was only a light session involving  a period of jogging and stretches for the main squad. This was because the team had played a friendly game the day before against Matsumoto Yamaga. Most of the players finished after the stretches but a small group of the squad including Kota Ueda set up a small pitch with small sized goals and practiced their passing and movement in a kind of 5 a side game. All the players and the new coach were very friendly and welcoming to all the fans who were there to watch the session. They took time to talk to the fans, sign autographs and have their photos taken with the fans. I could not imagine such a scenario happening these days in the major European leagues, at least not in such a relaxed atmosphere. It was a great morning so thank you to the players and staff of Omiya Ardija.

                                            Ardy Road signpost!

the main building

the Orange shop for Ardija merchandise

the players jogging round

some of the players practicing 

the fans lined up waiting to get the players' signatures and photos

the Ardija van

Cho taking a having a long chat with his fans

Ardija vending machine

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Takashi Kitano's autograph

One of my students went along to an Omiya Ardija training session recently and kindly got me the autograph of Ardija goalkeeper Takashi Kitano. I hope to go along soon and watch Kitano and the other players train too.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Omiya Ardija training schedule for February 2014

Photograph taken in the Orange shop. Training schedule for the players in February 2014. Let's hope training is going well.

Season 2014 Omiya Ardija Squad numbers

If you are thinking of getting a new shirt for the upcoming season and want to have it printed with your favourite player's name, here is the list of the numbers the squad will be using.

I took this photograph in the Orange Shop in Omiya.

This year no player will wear the number 12 shirt. At least not yet, though it's on the list. Unlucky for some number 13 doesn't even get a mention. The team is getting superstitious perhaps.

Diago Watanabe has moved to take over the number 10 shirt.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Season 2013

Omiya Ardija - season 2013

14 Omiya Ardija  34 14 3 17 45 48 −3 45

What a strange season 2013 was for Omiya Ardija supporters. I'm sure all of us at the beginning of 2013 could not have predicted the ups and downs that we would experience. However, one thing we all definitely predicted is that Ardija would not be relegated and would finish in 14th place. Most fans probably tipped us to finish anywhere between 13th and 15th. We were bang in the middle of that. Just like normal. What was not normal was how we went about ending up in 14th place.

Two managers, two very different streaks, a first ever run at the top of the table, a behind the scenes player revolt, the signing of an ex- Premier League player,  and a dramatic slide down the table to our usual position.

Many would still question the wiseness of the decision to sack Verdenik, the man who brought in the Slovenian attack duo to help surge Ardija to the very heights of J1. At the time of his sacking, Verdenik's team were on a 5 game losing streak. This was surely too soon to pull the trigger. It seems now that it was driven by problems in the team and the club behind the scenes.

The bigger problem for the fans was that his replacement would take the club on a far worse losing streak, and turn out performances that were lifeless and showed a lack of spirit, skill, teamwork and tenacity. Qualities that had pushed the Verdenik team to the top and had made Ardija difficult to play against.

Ogura looked out of his depth at Ardija. This might be unfair. He stepped into a difficult situation at Omiya but certainly he did not bring the best out of the players. He showed no ability to halt the slide, to change the team line ups, or to try new formations. The sad truth is we finished 14th and not in a relegation place, because of the points we had amassed earlier in the season under the management of Verdenik and not because of anything Ogura brought to the club. By the end of the season the only sane decision for the Chairman was to sack him. Thankfully he did so.

The Chairman must take some of the blame. His decision to support the players against Verdenik backfired horrendously. The performances in the latter half of the season were embarrassing. I have better memories of seeing Omiya fight for their life in previous seasons, than the poor play served up by Ogura's team. There may have been other reasons behind the Verdenik sacking, but they have not been made public. The Chairman, like the manager and the captain of a club needs to hold a firm, strong line at times. Otherwise everything can unravel. It did do alarmingly at Ardija last season. The saving grace is that the relegated teams were just too many points worse off to save Ardija's skin. We are still in J1.

I'm not sure if it's been announced yet who is the captain for season 2014 but I wonder if it should be Kosuke Kikuchi. He clearly played a role in whatever went on in the club at the time of Verdenik's departure and he doesn't seem strong enough on the pitch with regard to other players. Zlatan and Novakovic continually displayed dissent to the referees. Something which Kikuchi should have put a stop to. He should also have been firmer with Shohei Takahashi to deal with some of his petulance and on field behaviour. He must have the support of people in the club. If he continues to be captain, I will be looking for a better performance from him in that role.

Fans can discuss in detail the deficiencies of the squad or players in particular. For me the major weak point of the team is the lack of variety. There is no plan B. Once it went wrong for Ardija, there was nothing else for them to try. The set up was always the same. They just went on playing the way they had been all along, and they kept on losing. The magic had gone. Heads dropped. Opponents knew how what to expect and knew how to deal with it and outplay Ardija.

The hope for the future is that we might build a squad that can play a variety of styles of football. Not simply 4-4-2.

To finish: Let's not forget that in season 2013 Omiya Ardija were top of J1 for a while. That was a brilliant feeling. The kind of feeling that football is all about. Yes, it went horribly wrong, but before it did, it was fantastic being on top of the league.