JEF United Chiba midfielders Yuki Abe and Yuto Sato are determined to reward manager Ivica Osim with a title they feel he richly deserves when they take on J. League leader Gamba Osaka in the Nabisco Cup final.
Former Yugoslavia national team coach Osim has worked wonders at the club since taking over in 2003, and Chiba stands on the brink of capturing its first title since the J. League was launched in 1993 in Saturday’s clash at National Stadium.
Under the overachieving Osim, unfashionable Chiba (then JEF United Ichihara) finished third in the J. League first division in 2003, equaling its highest ever position, and was fourth overall last year.
Chiba was unbeaten in its last 11 matches and still in the title race, five points adrift of Gamba. Sato believes it’s time to reward his wily 64-year-old manager for his hard work.
“The manager can take the credit at JEF, and I think it would be fair to say that he has made a real impact on Japanese soccer in general,” said Sato.
“Both myself and the club are indebted to the manager for the way he has taken us forward. We want to repay that debt by winning the cup on Saturday,” added the 23-year-old, who like Japan international Abe is a product of JEF’s youth scheme.
Abe said, ” He is only in his third year as manager here, and I feel the majority of players have really improved under him.”
JEF, which was beaten 4-0 by Jubilo Iwata in their only previous appearance in the final in 1998, will be without the services of suspended Austrian striker Mario Haas, but Sato doesn’t see that as being a problem.
“It’s a shame that he can’t play, but we have been without him before when he’s been injured and the other forwards have got the job done,” Sato said.
While Chiba comes into the final on the back of a series of impressive results, Gamba will be seeking a tonic after back-to-back defeats in the league saw its lead at the top of the table shrink to one point.
Gamba was comprehensively beaten 3-1 at JEF in the league earlier in the season and has not won once in their last five meetings with Osim’s men.
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