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Friday, January 14, 2011

Q&A with Sasa Ognenovski

Q&A with Sasa Ognenovski Print E-mail
Thursday, 13 January 2011 13:15
Australia defender Sasa Ognenovski was named AFC Player of the Year in November after playing a key role in Seongnam Ilhwa’s AFC Champions League title-winning run and this month he is anchoring the Socceroos’ defence as they set their sights on their first-ever AFC Asian Cup title.

The 31-year-old talked exclusively to about how winning the award has impacted his career so far and about his nation’s hopes of success at the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011.

Q: It’s a few months since you were crowned AFC Player of the Year, what impact has it had so far?

It helped me get into this AFC Asian Cup squad and we’ll see if I keep performing well then I’ll keep my position within the squad hopefully for the future as well. It’s been a good patch and I just need to keep it going so I don’t just fall off the radar.

Q: How was the FIFA Club World Cup?

It was good, a bit disappointing with the way that we lost to Inter (Seongnam lost 3-0 to the European champions in the semifinals). I thought we could have put a bit more pressure on them, especially on the scoreboard as we had some good chances to score. They were clinical. They had three chances and three goals but that’s how you get to be European champions.

Watching the final (against TP Mazembe from DR Congo), they had seven or eight chances and scored three so that was a bit disappointing. Then in the last game (the third place playoff which Seongnam lost 4-2 against Brazilian side Internacional) we had a few boys out and all of the boys were a bit busted up from a long season so it wasn’t the best game for us. We would have liked to have finished third but it wasn’t really too high up our priorities.

Q: You’re now a part of the AFC Asian Cup squad for Australia. How have you been welcomed by the rest of the players?

I felt welcome pretty much from the beginning. After the AFC Champions League final I went to play in Cairo for Australia against Egypt and they welcomed me into the team. I think if you come in with a bit of status it’s a bit different, rather than just coming in as a youngster. Obviously you still have to prove yourself but if you’ve already proved yourself a little a club level the players look at you differently. I’m an older player as well so it’s a little different. But like I said, hopefully I can keep performing well and keep helping the team and keep clean sheets.

Q: How’s the partnership with Lucas Neill developing?

It’s good. The communication was there from the Cairo game even though the team didn’t do so well (Australia lost 3-0), it wasn’t a great result for us. But the communication was there and then again in the UAE game (which ended in a 0-0 draw) we were pretty tight and compact and then against India I think they had one shot at goal all game. I think that with even more games that the partnership can get even better.

Q: You play your club football in Korea Republic with Seongnam Ilhwa. What have you been able to tell the other players in the Socceroos squad about the Korea team ahead of your game with them on Friday?

Nothing that they don’t already know. I know some of the new players who have come onto the scene, like the boy Koo Ja-choel who scored two goals against Bahrain. He plays as a defensive midfielder in Korea and I’ve only seen him play there but the coach has decided to push him further forward. But he’s a great player and for me he’s one of the best players in the K-League and he’s only a young boy, 20 or 21 years old. It’s his second year in the K-League and he ripped it apart this year. He’s a big reason why Jeju United finished where they did in the K-League.

If I can give the boys any information about the players then I will. We know pretty much what the European based ones can do and I think they’re the ones we have to worry about. They’re all technically good players and I think us, as a team we need to concentrate on what we want to do and not worry too much about how South Korea play.

Q: Given you’ve been playing for a while in Korea, this must be a special game for you.

Definitely. I’ve been there for two years now and know some of the players and it’s a bit funny because some of the people I know in Korea, even though they’re Koreans, are barracking for the Aussies as well, so it’s a little bit funny. It would be nice to get a win over them, although I don’t know what the reception for me would be like whenever I get back but it would be nice to get a win over them.

Q: The Australians were criticised for the way they approached the AFC Asian Cup in 2007. Has there been a conscious effort to be more conservative this time around?

I think there is. Holger Osieck’s been saying that and the boys themselves know there’s no point talking yourself up if you’re going to perform badly. If it comes to the final and we haven’t lost a game then we can say: ‘We’re doing alright, we’re confident.’ Early in the tournament it’s about finding our feet and they’re two very good games for us to get into the rhythm. Everyone’s trying to keep a lid on it and try and be humble.

I think from the last campaign there was a lot of talk, and a lot of that was media driven as well because of the good result we had at the World Cup. There was massive expectation and the boys were overly confident and then we were knocked out by Japan. But I think this time it’s a little different.

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