Omiya Ardija took center stage last Saturday after setting a new J. League record for consecutive unbeaten games, but the unheralded Saitama side can expect plenty more attention if it manages to maintain its impressive start to the season.
Ardija beat local rivals Urawa Reds 1-0 to extend their unbeaten run to 18, moving past Kashima Antlers’ 2009 mark and jumping into second place in the table behind Yokohama F. Marinos. Such success represents uncharted territory for a low-key club that has yet to win a major trophy, but with the team growing in confidence with every game under the shrewd guidance of manager Zdenko Verdenik, anything currently seems possible.
“Little by little we are beginning to believe that we have a strong team and that we can play well,” Verdenik said after Saturday’s game. “On top of that, people are beginning to look at us and praise what we are doing.”
After taking over last summer with the club snared in yet another fight against relegation, Verdenik certainly deserves recognition. The Slovenian has instilled a rigid tactical discipline in his players through relentless sessions on the training ground, transforming what was once a loose collection of individuals into one of the most well-drilled units in the league.
Such a solid foundation provides the perfect launch pad for strikers Zlatan Ljubijankic and Milivoje Novakovic to wreak havoc, and the Slovenian pair have not disappointed. Ljubijankic has scored in each of Omiya’s last three games, but the 29-year-old prefers to focus on the future rather than revel in the team’s recent achievements.
“The record means something, but the most important thing for me is to stay in this position at the end of the season,” he said. “But we are happy we made this record, and I hope we don’t lose the next game and keep continuing to win.”
Such caution is justified given Omiya’s unfamiliarity with the league’s upper echelons, and the physical toll of pressing and covering with the tenacity that Verdenik demands could yet pose problems further down the line.
Such worries, however, can surely wait for another day. After writing their name into history with a win over their biggest rivals, Ardija deserve to savor the moment.
Jubilo Iwata’s dismal form at the end of last season suggested the three-time champions could be in for a rough ride this time round, and Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Sanfrecce Hiroshima provided the latest confirmation.
Jubilo lost six of their final eight fixtures last year to limp over the line in 12th place, and after suffering their fifth defeat of the 2013 season at the hands of Sanfrecce, the Shizuoka side now props up the table with only two points from seven games.
“Of course it’s a very frustrating feeling, and we feel very sorry that we’re in this situation,” said midfielder Hiroki Yamada, who has scored half of Jubilo’s six goals so far. “But there’s no way we are going to win if we allow our heads to drop. We have to keep looking forward and have confidence in our ability.”
“Rather than thinking about what we are lacking, the most important thing is to keep going. Of course results are everything, but we need to keep playing our football in order to get those results.”
Kawasaki Frontale can breathe just a little easier after Saturday’s 4-2 win over Vegalta Sendai.
Still looking for their first win after six games of the new campaign, Yoshito Okubo put Frontale ahead for the first time this season with a goal in the 25th minute at Todoroki Stadium, before two more from Renato took the Kanagawa side into halftime with a 3-0 lead.
Manager Yahiro Kazama had been forced to listen to speculation that his job was on the line after opening the campaign with three draws and three losses, but the 51-year-old insists his belief in his players never wavered along the way.
“We talked about fighting spirit before the game, about strength and intensity,” he said. “When you talk about strength you are talking about your heart and mind. When you talk about intensity you are talking about playing hard and keeping your composure. The players gave me what I asked.”
Quotable: “Of course you can’t win every game in such a long season. You can lose tough games like this. How we restart now is what’s important.”
— Yokohama F. Marinos manager Yasuhiro Higuchi reflects on the end of his team’s perfect start to the season after losing 1-0 to Albirex Niigata on Saturday.