SAITAMA — Holger Osieck believes victory for Urawa Reds in the AFC Champions League final on Wednesday evening will be the seed for renewed growth throughout the Asian game.
Reds coach Osieck emphasized the importance of beating Iran’s Sepahan in the second leg of the final with a passionate discourse on Tuesday of the benefits to be reaped throughout the continent if the Saitama giants can claim their first ACL title.
“If we do it tomorrow, the region will get a boost. If they get a boost, our team will get a boost. And if we continue to do this, the entire country will grow, and if the country grows, football in Asia will grow,” said Osieck at Saitama Stadium.
“So I think from that perspective it is very important that we win.”
The ACL, revamped in 2003, has received criticism in recent years for disorganization and a disparity in the quality of teams, with J. League clubs guilty in the past of regarding the tournament as an unworthy inconvenience.
The Reds, guided by the vision of president Mitsunori Fujiguchi, bucked the trend this year by taking the competition seriously and have been the standard bearers of professionalism, which Osieck believes has been vital in influencing other Asian teams and raising the competition’s profile.
“I can only speak of our situation. Here in our country it’s been extraordinary. The facilities are top notch, the atmosphere is world class, and if you tie it to this competition, it will bring it a lot of attention. And I am sure if they can emulate this in other countries, the competition will continue to grow and prosper.”
Urawa hung on for a grim 1-1 draw in the first leg of the final in Esfahan last week after a Jekyll and Hyde performance in which the Reds dominated the first half and fell apart in the second. But with a vital away goal collected and defeat narrowly averted, Osieck knows a 0-0 draw at Saitama Stadium is good enough for an aggregate victory.
The Reds go into the game without injured captain Nobuhisa Yamada and long-term casualty Shinji Ono. Others carry assorted bumps and bruises brought on by the rigors of an exhaustive season in which the Reds are pushing for a league and ACL double, before they turn their attentions to the FIFA Club World Cup and Emperor’s Cup.
“Of course our team has had to play a great number of games throughout the season. But I think that if you really want to achieve something great you have to be willing to endure a lot of hardship,” said Osieck.
The good news for the German is that central defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka, who missed the first leg with a thigh strain, is expected to play, as is striker Washington who re-aggravated a nose injury in the 1-1 draw against Kawasaki Frontale last weekend, which left Urawa five points ahead in the league with three games to play.
The reoccurrence of Washington’s injury, for which he has been wearing a Zorro-like mask for the past few weeks, sparked a bottle-kicking display of petulance from the tempestuous Brazilian.
Osieck, however, defended the actions of a player with whom he has had his differences in the past, most recently during the Frontale match when the striker took the equalizing penalty instead of Robson Ponte to the chagrin of the Urawa coach.
“Well, it was an understandable reaction. He broke his nose a couple of weeks ago. Shortly before the end of the Kawasaki match he got hit again, his nose started bleeding, it hurt. A normal reaction is to show emotions . . .
“There will be a referee tomorrow and his job is to protect the players, so I don’t foresee any problems.”
Hafzi Cup winner Sepahan go into Wednesday’s game knowing it has already qualified for December’s Club World Cup playoff against New Zealand side Waitakere United, due to a FIFA rule forbidding two Japanese teams taking part in the competition.
Victory for the injury-free Iranians, who beat Frontale on penalties in the quarterfinals, would put them in the Club World Cup proper, with the Reds taking their place in the playoff if they win the J. League.