As his recent coronation as Asia’s top player would suggest, Sasa Ognenovski has no shortage of attributes. Goalscoring ability was not, however, previously considered to be among them.
Nonetheless, the big Aussie is currently on something of a roll, with last night’s close-range header in Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC’s 4-1 win over Al Wahda his third goal in as many matches. It was an equally vital strike in the AFC Champions League final that kicked off this unlikely purple patch, and while it might not have Julio Cesar and Co quaking in their boots quite yet, the Seongnam centre-half is savouring his new predatory status.
As he told FIFA.com: “I didn’t even realise I was on three from three but that’s not bad at all, is it? The last one was a penalty to be fair, but I’ve got to be pleased with that kind of record as a centre-half. It’s obviously not my main job, but I am expected to go up for set pieces and contribute in an attacking sense, whether that’s by scoring myself or just taking out a few of the opposition players and creating space for others. I’m just glad that worked out for us tonight.”
Ognenovski’s goal did not come about by accident, of course, and he readily acknowledged that it owed as much to Mauricio Molina’s inch-perfect cross as to his own precise header. Indeed, with three of the Asian champions’ four goals heavily indebted to the Colombian’s deadly left boot, there was no questioning Molina’s value to the Seongnam cause.
“He’s a key player for us,” admitted Ognenovski. “He’s been important for us all year, scoring goals and providing crosses like those ones you saw tonight. And as long as he can keep delivering them like that, I’ll keep knocking them in.”
Extending his scoring sequence against FC Internazionale Milano will take some doing, of course, but the AFC Player of the Year is of the belief that, with Inter short on form and confidence, an upset could be in the offing. He said: “The boys are buzzing about the game already and I'm sure we can give Inter a good run for their money. They’re probably as weak right now as they’ve been for a long, long time, so hopefully we’re catching them when they’re vulnerable.”
When one considers the star names at Inter’s disposal and the scale of their achievements over the past year, it might be considered surprising that Ognenovic is so openly bullish. Yet this, it seems, is simply the Seongnam way under coach Shin Tae-Yong, who even before seeing off Al Wahda, was talking openly about reaching the final and shocking the European champions.
“It all comes from him,” acknowledged Ognenovski. “He didn’t lose many games in his own playing career, so winning trophies is second nature to him. He’s a confident guy and that spreads right through the team. The boys believe what he says and if he tells us we can do something, we’ll do our best to prove him right.”