SAITAMA — Urawa Reds stand just a few games from greatness, but Holger Osieck isn’t falling into the trap of speculating on the enviable position in which the Saitama giants find themselves.
Saturday’s J. League match against JEF United Chiba at Fukuda Denshi Arena.
Former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier once boasted that his men were “10 games from greatness.” Those words, uttered on the eve of their 2002 UEFA Champions League quarterfinal against Bayer Leverkusen, came back to haunt the Frenchman.
The Reds, also challenging for the Premier League at the time, lost to the Germans and ended the season empty handed. It was the beginning of the end for Houllier.
Osieck is aware such bold remarks have the tendency to blow up in a coach’s face and the German, never the one for bluster, measured his comments carefully ahead of Wednesday’s AFC Champions League semifinal second-leg tie against Seongnam Ilhwa.
“I can’t think of anything beyond tomorrow’s game,” Osieck said. “We have to be focused. What will happen later I do not know. We can’t lose the ground below our feet. We have to be solid tomorrow and we will have to see what happens in the future.”
He may have demurred when asked how he sees the rest of the season panning out but Osieck would be forgiven for donning a pair of shades considering the brightness of the Reds’ immediate future.
A quadruple, however improbable, is certainly on the cards. The defending champion Reds stand six points clear in the J. League with five matches left, having won their last five on the trot.
They are 90 minutes from the ACL final and a berth in December’s Club World Cup, with the defense of their Emperor’s Cup crown still to come.
They host South Koreans Seongnam at Saitama Stadium with two crucial away goals picked up in a first-leg draw. Urawa also beat the K-League champions 1-0 in the A3 Champions Cup in August.
But while Osieck is not one to look to the future, he also is none to keen to dwell on the past: “We need to forget those games. We just need to concentrate on tomorrow’s game and we should win it.
“They are a well-balanced team and play most of their games with the same players but we have to be wary of not just one player but the team as a whole,” said Osieck.
The German may be unwilling to identity an individual threat among the Koreans, but there is a consensus among both teams that Urawa striker Washington is one player that can make the difference.
The Brazilian suffered a facial injury after scoring the second of his two goals in last weekend’s 4-2 league victory over JEF United Chiba but Osieck said he should play Wednesday, with the 32-year-old striker expected to wear a Phantom of the Opera-style face mask to protect his nose.
Seongnam coach Kim Hak Bum showed concern over the threat of Washington, who has 15 J. League goals this year and scored the only goal between the two teams in August, but is confident the visitors can get a result despite being hampered by the two away goals conceded.
“Urawa have got great players like Washington, Robson Ponte and Tatsuya Tanaka but we also have good defenders. The injury of Washington (if he didn’t play) would not be an advantage because there are a lot of other good players.
“The Reds also have good defensive players but we want to attack and score as many as possible. There is no reason we can’t score two or more goals here.”
The reward for whoever triumphs Wednesday is a two-legged final on Nov. 7 and 14 against either Sepahan of Iran or Al Wahda of the Unit ed Arab Emirates. Sepahan lead 3-1 after the first leg of their semifinal.
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