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Nagoya: It’s been nearly a year since Nagoya Oceans goalkeeper Yushi Sekiguchi saved NAFIT Al Wasat’s Saif Abdulmalek's spot-kick to give the Japanese club their record third AFC Futsal Club Championship, but for 39-year-old Pedro Costa, the moment still hasn’t truly sunk in.

“I still don’t know if it was real or just a dream,” admitted Nagoya’s Portuguese coach, ahead of the 2017 edition which begins on Thursday.  

“In my first competition as a coach, I was able to win the biggest club title in Asia and become the youngest head coach to lead a side to this championship.”

 

They certainly didn’t do it the easy way. Costa’s team won just one game in normal time in the tournament.

In the final itself, Nagoya, twice, looked dead and buried.

First, Yoshio Sakai needed to score late to take the tie to extra-time when Hasan Dakheel had put NAFIT 3-2 up with eight minutes left. Then, in extra-time, Dakheel netted his second but again Nagoya levelled at the death through captain Ryuta Hoshi to take the final into a shoot-out.

After both sides netted their first five penalties, Sekiguchi stepped up to produce a composed finish before saving from Abdulmalek and earning Nagoya the crown of Asia’s futsal club kings for a third time.

In the aftermath, the coach insisted Nagoya’s triumph was due to a never-say-die attitude amongst his players.

“We were the only team that tried to get the victory from the first minute to the last,” he said in the post-final press conference.

“In all the games, I’ve said it’s not just about the first five minutes or the last five minutes. I have learnt the Japanese spirit from the guys – we never surrender.”

The victory at Bangkok Arena meant Nagoya can legitimately claim to be among the premier futsal clubs in Asia with two more continental titles than anyone else to their name as they added to the crowns won in 2011 and 2014.

It was particularly sweet for Costa who, as a player, had come up short with Nagoya in both the 2013 and 2015 tournaments. “Bad memories because we didn’t win,” is how he describes those competitions.

Pedro Costa (14) at the 2015 AFC Futsal Club Championship

While Nagoya will not be defending their title – Shriker Osaka are Japan’s representative after winning the 2016-17 F.League – Costa remains hugely fond of the tournament and will be paying close attention to this year’s competition.

“For the players, this tournament is very important as they can compete against players from other countries,” he said.

“We always learn things about futsal and about life and that makes us grow. At the same time, it prepares the players for the competitions in the national teams.

“For the fans, they should watch the tournament because Futsal is: Speed, Intensity, Emotion, Entertainment and can present them with goals from another world!”

Photos: Lagardère Sports