Shinji Ono is in flying form and what better stage to prove it than the UEFA Super Cup final.
By Greg Demetriou
Shinji Ono has started the new season where he left the last, in flying form for Feyenoord, and what better stage to prove it than the UEFA Super Cup final.
After playing a major role in Feyenoord's UEFA Cup triumph last May, Ono has helped propel his side into the first group stage of the 2002/03 UEFA Champions League with two excellent performances in the third qualifying round against Fenerbahçe SK. The only goal of the game at De Kuip in the first leg was followed by a crucial away strike in Istanbul on Tuesday night. Feyenoord won 3-0 on aggregate, a comfortable victory from a tie that had looked anything but when the draw was made.
The Rotterdam club can now look forward to tomorrow night's Super Cup meeting with Real Madrid CF - not that Bert van Marwijk's side will take it easy against Europe's finest. A match against the Champions League holders will serve as a more than useful exercise for the challenges sure to come later this season.
Having played in a FIFA World Cup for his country and tasted European success, Ono sees the showpiece in Monaco as yet another chance to test himself against the very best. "Because I play with Feyenoord in the Dutch league, we never face Real Madrid," he said, ahead of the meeting with Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and co. "I consider this match a very special occasion."
It is precisely the kind of game that Ono moved to Europe for. He joined Feyenoord from J-League side Urawa Red Diamonds in summer 2001 and quickly established himself in the Dutch team's midfield. He had a good time of it in domestic action but came into his own in Europe where he started the UEFA Cup ball rolling with a late winner in their first match in the competition against SC Freiburg. The campaign finished with Ono's excellent pass to Jon Dahl Tomasson for Feyenoord's winning goal in the 3-2 final victory over BV Borussia Dortmund.
Having coped successfully with the pressures of being a Japanese player abroad, Ono believes he is well prepared for his second season in Europe. "I'm now more used to the whole situation," he said. "And, because I have my spot in the starting eleven, it gives me more confidence and makes me more relaxed."
Likes the limelight
The spotlight is sure to be on him again at the Stade Louis II on Friday night. Lesser players would crumble under such scrutiny, but Ono would rather be in the centre of the action than on the periphery.
This is emphasised by his desire to play in the middle of the park. He can play on either flank, but prefers to be right in the thick of things. "For me playing in the central midfield means a lot of work in offence as well in defence," he said. "That is something that gives me a pretty good feeling, because I have to work permanently and keep my concentration."
Looking beyond the Super Cup, Ono is already excited about the first group stage of the Champions League next month. After Feyenoord were eliminated from that stage last season, earning just one win in Group H, there is much desire to make amends among the Dutch side.
Ono himself admitted he was not fully prepared for the competition's magnitude the first time around. "Last season I had really no idea about the impact of the Champions League," he said. "After a full season in Europe, I now know the importance, and my goal is to stay in it as long as possible." With Ono pulling the strings, there is every chance that Feyenoord will be true contenders this year.