Reds looking for Ono to step up

by James Mulligan

Urawa Reds coach Holger Osieck is hoping Shinji Ono can play a key role in the absence of injured star Robson Ponte as the Saitama giants look to finish the season on a high at the FIFA Club World Cup.

News photoReds coach Holger Osieck smiles while speaking at a Tokyo news conference for the FIFA Club World Cup on
Wednesday.
KYODO PHOTO

After winning the AFC Champions League in November, Urawa’s world has caved in and the Reds struck rock-bottom on Saturday when they conceded the J.League title to Kashima Antlers on the final day of the season.

Urawa lost 1-0 to already relegated Yokohama FC, while the Antlers beat Shimizu S-Pulse 3-0 to leapfrog the Reds and win the league by two points.

Things got worse for Osieck on Tuesday when influential playmaker Ponte, tipped by many to be named the J.League’s Most Valuable Player this season, was ruled out for up to six months with a knee ligament injury.

Osieck lamented the loss of Ponte on Wednesday but said Ono has the mentality to step into the shoes of the former Bayer Leverkusen man.

“Both are key players. Shinji was out recently for two weeks and now we lose Robbie and he is definitely out of the tournament,” said Osieck.

“Shinji may be ready and he will have the kind of spirit we need. Hopefully he can show his full potential in the games ahead of him.”

The Dec. 7-16 Club World Cup brings together the champions of FIFA’s continental club competitions. The final is in Yokohama on Dec. 16. Last year, Brazil’s Internacional beat Barcelona 1-0.

Urawa plays the winner of Friday’s playoff between Asian runnerup Sepahan of Iran and Oceania champion Waitekere United of New Zealand in a quarterfinal matchup at Toyota Stadium on Monday. Urawa overcame Sepahan 2-0 on aggregate to lift its first-ever AFC Champions League.

The prize for the winner of the quarterfinal is a last-four match against Italian giant AC Milan next Thursday at International Stadium Yokohama.

South American champions Boca Juniors wait to face the winner of Sunday’s other quarterfinal between African champion Etoile Sahel of Tunisia and CONCACAF champion CF Pachuca of Mexico.

Former Feyenoord midfielder Ono said the Reds want to show their worth at the Club World Cup after their disastrous end to the season.

“The entire team is disappointed because of losing the title so we need to finish this season with a great result so we can go out on a high,” said Ono.

“Playing against different teams from different countries is rare and valuable, so I want to enjoy this.”