Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Beer-man Osieck raises glass to Urawa's ACL victory




The Urawa Reds became the first Japanese team since Shimizu S-Pulse in 2000 to win a continental championship when they defeated Sepahan of Iran 2-0 in the final of the Asian Champions League on Wednesday at Saitama Stadium.

An elated Holger Osieck spoke afterward about the win, the season and his preferred celebratory poison of choice:

Q: Did you feel Sepahan were capable of scoring tonight?

A: They always create something. The strikers were obviously a little overambitious, they were running too early too deep and they were caught offside. But you should never underrate that. If they had scored then it would have made our players anxious and therefore you could never be 100 percent sure. If it’s a normal game sure, but in this game where you have to calculate away goals it could have made a difference. But fortunately it didn’t happen and we could keep our lead. And our boys worked extremely hard and considering what we’ve accomplished in the last couple of days, not weeks, it’s amazing. We had to travel to Iran (to play Sepahan in the first leg on Nov. 7), and then the Kawasaki Frontale game (on Nov. 11), which was like a championship game they way they played us. What they did (their rough play) was unbelievable. I have nothing against ambition but there’s a limit … And today again, we should never forget it was a final and there’s always pressure, always tension. And you could feel that throughout the day. There was nothing normal about our preparation like for a league game. Everybody knew what was at stake and you could really sense what was going on. And it was very important for us to show that we could handle this kind of pressure, handle our nerves.

Q: Ahead of the season you said Yuichiro Nagai (who scored the game winner on Wednesday) was going to be an important player for you. Do you feel vindicated now after some people questioned why you had given him the chance earlier in the season?

A: I think he started the season pretty well even though people were wondering why I played him. I have to admit that he was in kind of a slump but then he came back. His return to form came in the Gamba Osaka game (a 1-0 Urawa win on Aug. 15 in which Nagai scored the winner). From that game on he proved what he could do and did what I knew what he was able to do. He scored some very important goals for us, for example against the F. Marinos, etc., and he did a good job for us up front doing what I asked of him, such as defensively during build-ups by our opponents. I think Nagai has done very well for our team this year.

Q: There was a lot of pressure on you following in the footsteps of former manger Guido Buchwald, who won the league and Emperor’s Cup titles last season. You’ve won the ACL and are close to clinching the J.League title. It must make you very happy to be in this position?

A: I was aware of the pressure that was surrounding the team and in particular myself because it is never easy taking over a team that is very successful. It was easier for me in the old days when I coached here (1995-1996) and we were a bottom team. People were happy with any win we could get. Now we’re in a situation in which people ask for wins even if you have no chance. I recall we had some draws earlier in the season and it was not too pleasant. We lost some ground in the league and I think people became a little critical. But I am happy we could overcome it. And for me our trip to China for the A3 tournament was the turning point. That was the first time we were together as a full squad. In the preseason we were pretty much torn because of the different commitments of players and the late arrivals of our foreigners. I never had the entire team together. China was the first time we could really create some understanding and create some chemistry between the coach and team. And from then on it went OK. We won four in a row and headed into the summer break and I think that four-game streak carried over and of course we had an extra game against Sanfrecce Hiroshima that we won. Our start against Reysol was a bit bumpy but then we met Gamba and winning that was the most important thing we did. The performance of the team after that became very stable. In addition to our domestic success we had good games in the ACL. We beat Cheonbuk Motors, eliminated Seongnam Ilhwa, which was a very good team, and then today. In a nutshell that is our season, so you can close your notepads and write your stories now.

Q: After the victory over Seongnam (in the semifinals of the ACL) you said you were going to celebrate with a beer. Are you going to go for something a little stronger tonight?

A: Well actually I am a beer kind of guy. Whatever happens, if it’s a birthday or a victory, it’s nothing more than beer.

Q: German beer or Japanese?
A: I prefer local because you never know what's inside imported beer.

Q: Looking back on the ACL campaign, would you say Seongnam were your toughest opponent?

A: I would say they were the strongest we played in the competition. They played football, unlike Cheonbuk, who were like another team we recently played in the J.League (referring to the rough play used by Kawasaki). You can guess, it’s like a riddle, I won’t say anything more (laughs).

Q: Are you looking forward to appearing in the FIFA Club World Cup?

A: I think it’s a great opportunity for us. If we happen to reach the semis and play AC Milan that would be a highlight in the Reds history.

Q: How does the ACL win compare to other trophies you’ve won in the past?

A: Every title you win is a special one. And this again has it’s special character, you can’t compare them. The only thing you can do is be happy you won the competition.

Q: Sounds a little like women …

A: That’s his quote, not mine!

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Copyright: C.G. Williams & Soccerphile

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