YOKOHAMA — Urawa Reds coach Holger Osieck praised his players after they went down 1-0 to Italian giants AC Milan in the Club World Cup semifinals.
Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf scored the winner on 68 minutes as a Kaka-inspired Milan dominated proceedings at International Stadium Yokohama on Thursday, but German coach Osieck said his men did him proud.
“I congratulated my players in the dressing room for a good and gutsy performance,” said Osieck. “They played a very good game and gave Milan a tough time.”
“We didn’t just defend, we played open and attacking football and all in all we did very well, had a high work rate and basically represented Japanese football well in this tournament.”
Milan faces Argentina’s Boca Juniors in Sunday’s final in Yokohama, while the Reds will play Tunisia’s Etoile Sahel in the third-place playoff.
South American champion Boca beat African champion Etoile 1-0 in their semifinal on Wednesday.
“We want to finish in third place, it is our target and we want to win this game,” said Osieck.
“Etoile Sahel did very well against Boca and they have some good individual players and it is a quality team.”
Reds midfielder Keita Suzuki admitted that Milan was just too good for the Saitama side.
“We are disappointed. Milan showed what top quality they have and the defeat shows we still have a lot of work to do to improve,” said the 26-year-old Suzuki.
“Hopefully we will get the chance to play them again one day. Now we just have to try our best to finish in third place.”
Osieck raved over Ballon d’Or winner Kaka, who led Urawa on a merry dance with a number of probing runs, including the one that bamboozled Keisuke Tsuboi and allowed the space for his pass to Seedorf who directed the ball into the net.
“The difference was the individual class of Kaka, who did a great job, and Seedorf’s experience could finish it off,” said Osieck.
Despite Milan dominating possession Urawa had a few chances to score, including when Washington’s bending shot from 20 meters in the second half forced ‘keeper Dida to make an excellent save.
It briefly warmed up the crowd of 67,000 on a night when it didn’t have much to do but admire Milan’s play. Despite this, though, the fans cheered the Reds until the final whistle.
The Reds’ cause wasn’t helped when central defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka limped off with 14 minutes to go after receiving an injury.
“Our No. 4 (Tulio) took a knock on the side and could not play on. We will have to see how serious the injury is,” said Osieck.
The Milan-Boca final will be a repeat of the 2003 Toyota Cup, the one-off match between the European and South American champions that decided “the world’s best club” before the revamped Club World Cup was introduced.
Boca won the match four years ago on penalties and Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti said his men are desperate to win this one.
“The next game against Boca will be different in terms of experience and history,” said Ancelotti. “For us, we are just thinking about the trophy and will do our best efforts to win the game.”
Milan was last crowned as the best club in the world in 1990 when they won a second straight Toyota Cup with a 3-0 victory over Paraguay’s Olimpia Asuncion.
Sao Paulo beat Liverpool in 2005 in the revamped competition and Internacional upset Barcelona by the same scoreline last year.