Japanese reunion makes Hamann happy
Liverpool's appearance at the FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Japan 2005 will be especially significant for midfield linchpin Dietmar Hamann. It was here that Hamann put in some of his most memorable performances with Germany at the 2002 FIFA World Cup™. Although the Germans eventually lost out to Brazil in the final, Hamann harbours happy memories of the tournament and the Land of the Rising Sun. But as he tells FIFA.com, this time around he is determined to come away as a winner.
Hamann, now 32, is held in high regard by the Anfield faithful. His no-nonsense, uncompromising style has given the Reds an extra edge in midfield since he arrived on Merseyside from Newcastle United in 1999. Another facet to the German's game is his blistering shot, which has helped to yield some important strikes in the past six seasons.
His hard work and commitment has been rewarded with an array of winners' medals including two UEFA Cup triumphs with Liverpool and his previous club Bayern Munich and two UEFA Super Cups. But one night stands out as being particularly special. On 25 May 2005, Liverpool met AC Milan in the final of the UEFA Champions League in Istanbul. By half-time, the Italian giants had stormed to a seemingly unassailable 3-0 lead. During the interval, Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez pulled a masterstroke when taking off defender Steve Finnan and fielding Hamann - a move which would have dramatic consequences as the underdogs pulled level and then won the trophy in the penalty shoot-out. Hamann, who fired in Liverpool's first spot-kick, was instrumental in the victory and even revealed later that he had played with a fractured foot.
"Winning the UEFA Champions League final is the biggest achievement I have been a part of as a club footballer," Hamann told FIFA.com. "To take part in a final representing Liverpool and then to win it after being 0-3 down was unbelievable. It was one of the biggest nights ever for a footballer."
Another highlight was the previous encounter in the semi-finals at home to Jose Mourinho's Chelsea. "The atmosphere was electric - the best I have ever experienced at Anfield. We scored an early goal and for the rest of the 85 minutes the fans got right behind us. I had a few friends over for that game and they can't stop speaking about it. They couldn't believe the noise levels! For me, it was as surprising as the homecoming with the trophy. I expected a warm welcome, but this was beyond our wildest expectations. To see people sitting on roofs, on the top of bus stops, clinging to trees, traffic lights and lamp posts - it was unbelievable. It took a few weeks to sink in."
Now Hamann and his cohorts face a new challenge - to lift the FIFA Club World Championship in Japan - a feat that has escaped Liverpool twice. Returning to Japan however, will bring back good memories for Hamann, who shone as the understudy to Stefan Effenberg at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
"We had a great time in Japan and I am looking forward to going back there with Liverpool," he explained. "We had a good squad, a great team spirit and we probably went further than anyone expected. I think we were unlucky in the final when we came up against an excellent Brazil team who were too good for us, but the memories are very good. No one likes losing, but this defeat was hard to take. We had chances, but didn't take them. That's football, but I have to say that we had six fantastic weeks there."
His Liverpool team-mates will surely be gleaning as much information as they can before their opening match against Deportivo Saprissa and Hamann is convinced that a warm reception awaits the European champions.
"Most of the stadiums were full in Japan during the World Cup and it looked like the tournament provided a big boost for the country," he said. "Hopefully, our players will have a similar experience. This is a great honour for us. Liverpool have never won the competition and to be part of the first team to help them win it would be great. It's a long way to travel and we want to make sure that we're going there for a purpose: we want to be world champions."