Judging by the jubilant reaction of the crowd, the proverbial man from Mars dropping in at the Yokohama International Stadium after Thursday's FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2007 semi-final between Urawa Red Diamonds and AC Milan would have concluded that the Japanese had chalked up a sensational victory over the Italian giants. Deafening chants and thunderous cheers accompanied the Reds as they left the field, narrowly defeated despite a 90-minute show of heroic resistance against the overwhelming favourites from Europe.
Refusing to be awed by Milan's star ensemble, Urawa offered up passion by the bucketful but were unable to cancel out Clarence Seedorf's solitary strike of the match on 68 minutes. "I've been to the dressing room and congratulated my players on a tremendous performance," coach Holger Osieck declared, visibly delighted with his players' efforts. "Despite the outcome, we've proved we have a strong team, and we're worthy representatives of Asian football. We pushed Milan all the way."
Who knows how things might have turned out if Milan keeper Dida had not brilliantly denied Washington a minute before the winning goal? "Obviously I'm very disappointed, because we went out there determined to win the game," the Brazilian striker told FIFA.com. "But we were always the underdogs. We've turned in a great display against the runaway favourites and all their star names. Milan are one of the best teams in the world. I'll always retain happy memories of the match."
Urawa have been left with little time to mourn what might have been, as the next demanding challenge arrives on Sunday with the match for third place against Etoile Sahel. "We won't worry about the past, we're looking to the future," Osieck insisted. "We'll briefly analyse the match against Milan, then we'll turn our full concentration to Sunday's game. We're determined to finish third and end the tournament on a high."
*Determination and resolve * Midfield maestro Yuki Abe already has the CAF African Champions League winners in his sights: "They're very solid in defence and capable of adapting to suit their opponents' style of play. They're also a physically strong side. We'll have our work cut out, but I'm determined to finish this fantastic tournament with a win."
For that to happen, keeper Ryota Tsuzuki will need to reproduce the sparkling form he showed against Milan with a string of fine saves to keep his team in the match. "Obviously I'd have preferred to keep a clean sheet, so I can't be satisfied," Tsuzuki revealed to FIFA.com. "But now we've resolved to beat Etoile and claim third place." The Japanese side are guaranteed to benefit from their fans' boisterous support. "Our supporters are always tremendous. It'll be another fantastic occasion," Washington grinned as he looked forward to Sunday's match. A Red Diamonds victory would undoubtedly prompt scenes of unbounded joy in Yokohama.