Medford: Nothing is easy but nothing's impossible either
There has to be a loser in any sport but the coaches of Deportivo Saprissa and Sydney FC were brimming with pride at the end of an intriguing and largely even quarter-final clash at the Toyota Stadium in Japan on Monday. A 47th-minute Christian Bolanos strike gave the Costa Ricans the chance to pit their wits against Liverpool on Thursday, but the fledgling Australian side's performance would surely have won over the 28,000-plus crowd if they had not been supporting Kazu's side anyway.
"It was a good performance from Sydney against a team that have been champions of their country 23 times," summed up Sydney coach Pierre Littbarski. "We had our chances but we just couldn't score, and their goal came at the wrong moment for us. We tried to come back but were hit by the red card. I'm glad we fought right until the end."
The German spelt out just how far the side had come since he agreed to take charge.
"We are 12 months old and we played against soccer history," he said. "Saprissa have class and until very recently many of our players were performing at amateur level so to get so close was a real achievement. In the end they were perhaps a bit smarter than us but it was valuable experience."
The Oceania champions, who will next year compete in Asia, pleased the crowd with the inclusion of 38-year-old Japanese football icon Kazu Miura in their starting 11.
"I thought he did well in the first half," replied Littbarski to a question from a local journalist. "He combined well with (Sasho) Petrovski and made some good runs. I'd spent 10 months working to bring him in for us and I'm happy that he performed well."
Saprissa coach Hernan Medford was his usual composed self at the post-match press conference.
"I'm very happy because Saprissa made history tonight. It was a very difficult game but we came through it and now we are ready to go forward and take on Liverpool," he said. "It was a tight game, just as we thought. Sydney are good and know how to defend and attack. They are not a one-man side (Dwight Yorke). All of them were causing us problems at the start."
While Sydney fans were staying up late into the night to catch news of the clash, fans in San Jose and the rest of Costa Rica had set their alarm clocks early to follow a game they had been waiting for since qualifying early in the year.
"The people of Costa Rica have the right to celebrate, just as we will. Tomorrow we'll have to get our feet on the ground. Nothing is easy but nothing's impossible either," he said of their mouthwatering semi-final fixture versus the European champions. "We're playing against one of the greatest teams in Europe so that's motivation enough, but at the moment we just want to enjoy this win and tomorrow we'll think about Liverpool."
The UEFA Champions have players of all nationalities playing for them while Saprissa are a side made up exclusively of Costa Ricans.
"It means a lot to us," said Medford of the Purple Monster's one-nation policy. "Three years ago, the plan originated from a Mexican (Jorge Vergara). He trusted us and he's happy for our success. We also have about half the Costa Rican national side so it's a good base for the world cup in Germany."
There was a mixture of pride and disappointment for Sydney's players.
"The result was sad for me personally," said exciting winger David Carney. "I have family from Liverpool and I really wanted to play them. I thought we were the better side and should have won. It was frustrating not to get the goal, but full credit to the lads - they kept going and going.
"It will be hard to get motivated for the next game (Ahly). Hopefully we'll get up tomorrow and forget about it."
For Kazu, whose effervescent performance belied his 38 years, it was only part one of his homecoming.
"In the first half Sydney were fabulous but then Saprissa raised their level," he said honestly before a swarm of local press. "It was good that Japanese fans came out to support us and that will help us in the next match. I really want to finish on a winning note."