It was billed as the revenge match, but in the end it was a second consecutive defeat for Sepahan and a whole lot more disappointment. A month after their 2-0 loss against Urawa Red Diamonds in the final of the AFC Champions League, the Iranian side again went down to the Japanese outfit in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2007 on Monday. While the Reds took the plaudits from their delighted fans, Sepahan's players were hanging their heads as they left the tournament by the back door.
"We were obviously hoping for a win," said coach Luka Bonacic after his team's 3-1 defeat, "but football is a tough game to predict. Urawa were by far the better team and deserved their win." Nevertheless, the Croatian manager and his team have a number of positives to take out of their campaign.
"It was a real honour to play in this tournament," said Bonacic. "The FIFA Club World Cup is a great event and taking part meant so much to us. We wanted to give a good account of ourselves, but we didn't quite manage that today. We hope to be back though and put in a better performance next time."
Before falling at the quarter-final stage, the Iranians had already proved that they were worthy of their place at the tournament with their 3-1 win over New Zealand team Waitakere United in the opening match. They were particularly strong in attack in both games, with Mahmoud Karimi and the Iraqi pairing of Emad Mohammed and Abdul Wahab Abu Al Hail playing some technically very impressive football which earned the appreciation of the fans and the respect of their opponents.
"Sepahan really stretched us to the limit in both legs of the Champions League final," said Urawa coach Holger Osieck after the quarter-final, "so we knew what to expect. We had a lot of respect for them since they are strong up front and difficult to beat. They are a very good team with no real weaknesses. I have every respect for the club and their coach, who is doing a great job."
Giving youth its head
Bonacic saw his team hit by a number of injuries, but he stuck to his guns tactically and used it as an opportunity to blood some of his younger players. 17-year-old Ehsan Hajy Safi was in the starting XI for both matches and fully repaid the coach's confidence. "He is still very young but he's getting better all the time," said Bonacic, who was full of praise for the midfielder.
Jalalaldin Alimohammadi, Abolhassan Jafari, Reza Talabeh and Amirhossein Sadeghzadeh are also talented youngsters who will no doubt become regulars over the coming years. "Unfortunately we don't have the financial means to bring in big foreign names, so we prefer to look to our youth team. There are some good young players there whom I will no doubt be calling on in the years to come," said Bonacic.
Defender Jaba Mujiri was also looking confidently to the future. "We've been in a great tournament in a wonderful host country. Everything was organised to perfection, we were made to feel very welcome and thoroughly enjoyed our time here. Hopefully we'll be back again for the next tournament."