Towering defender Sasa Ognenovski has enjoyed a fairytale year which has included earning his first cap for Australia, captaining Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma to the AFC Champions League winners dais, and then being crowned AFC Player of the Year. It is a list of achievements that would sate even the most ambitious of players but the towering defender is now eyeing further glory at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010. FIFA.com spoke with the inspirational centre-back just after his Korea Republic club had claimed Asia’s most sought-after prize.
FIFA.com: How does it feel to captain the team that are Asian champions and have qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010?
Sasa Ognenovski: Fantastic! We worked so hard to achieve what did... It’s just a fantastic feeling. The AFC Champions League is a fantastic tournament. This tournament is getting better and better by the year.
How did you feel going into the AFC Champions League final?
We had confidence. We studied footage of Zob Ahan, and we felt if we could score first they’ll find it very hard. Once they opened up to try and recover we could get them on the counter-attack.
The Iran club’s ball possession rate was higher than Seongnam Ilhwa, but your side’s defensive line was really strong and solid?
We played very well, the whole team remained compact, so while they had a little ball possession they really could not do anything with it. And like I said, it was crucial for us to score the first goal to open them up, because obviously they had to come at us to score, meaning more opportunities to score opened up for us.
Can you clearly recall the goal you scored and how it came about?
Yes, the ball got flicked back, bounced around and then came out to me. I just thought, ok, we’re going to have to tackle it into the net (laughing). It was really important goal because if Zob Ahan scored the first, they can be a very hard team to break down. But we scored the first and they had to come at us.
It seemed that Seongnam Ilhwa had a strong mentality in the final and throughout the competition?
For a young team like us, we are really proud of it. We showed real toughness and strong mentality in the final.
How do you view the fact that South Korean clubs have now won the AFC Champions League two years in a row?
It proves that the K-League is a really strong league. And let’s not forget, this season four different Korean clubs reached the quarter-finals.
You must be excited about winning through to the FIFA Club World Cup in the UAE where you will be rubbing shoulders with some of the best players in the world?
Yes! This will be my second one. It’s very nice tournament, hopefully we will do very well. Hopefully we will play against Inter Milan at some stage in the tournament. As a player, you always want to test yourself against the best teams in Europe. I think they might prove to be the best team of the FIFA Club World Cup this year so hopefully we can face them.
Do you see that Asian club football is progressing?
Yes, Asian football scene is getting better and better. It’s an exciting time for the Asian game.
Finally, what is your goal at UAE 2010?
To go as far as we can. I don’t play to lose. We’ll go there to win!