Eintracht Frankfurt veteran Makoto Hasebe has said his side need to keep their focus if they are to qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League – or even win this year’s Europa League.
The Eagles have soared to fourth in the Bundesliga under Adi Hütter, and if they are still there by the end of the campaign that would be enough to earn them a place in the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League group stages.
Eintracht have already been excelling in Europe this term, as well. They will hope to overturn a two-goal deficit from the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final against Benfica when they host the return match in Frankfurt on Thursday.
Versatile Japanese star Hasebe has urged his teammates not to think too much about what is being said about their free-flowing side. Instead, they need to keep doing what has got them into this position.
Watch: Makoto Hasebe: Frankfurt's foundation
“The team is playing really well right now and everyone around us is talking about titles - and qualification for the Champions League,” Hasebe told bundesliga.com. “We have to remain humble and concentrated. If we can continue to play as well as we are now, then I’m sure we’ll have a successful season.”
Hasebe turned 35 in January, but his power is showing no signs of being on the wane. He was named Asian International Player of the Year for 2018 after helping Eintracht win the DFB Cup last May against Bayern Munich, and for captaining his country at the 2018 FIFA World Cup last summer.
He retired from international football after that tournament - having earned 114 caps - and has since performed brilliantly in a three-man backline for Eintracht. Hütter, in his first season in charge, is delighted to have such an experienced and intelligent campaigner at his disposal.
“Makoto stands out when we have the ball because he’s incredibly strong on it and can open the game up really, really well from the back,” the Austrian coach said. “He has an unbelievably good eye for a forward pass through the lines. That’s already impressive.
“But defensively you also have to say quite clearly that he’s the type of player who shoots out on his man. He’s a player who can guess quite early where the ball is going and whose anticipation is good.”
Hasebe is now in his twelfth season in Germany, having initially joined Wolfsburg from Urawa Red Diamonds in January 2008. He won the Bundesliga with the Wolves in 2008/09 before moving to Frankfurt via Nuremberg in 2014.
Eintracht’s oldest squad member has played at wing-back, in defensive midfield and at centre-back during his time in the Bundesliga - even lining out as a goalkeeper for 15 minutes in 2011 after Wolfsburg’s Marwin Hitz was red carded.
While the latter incident pushed Hasebe’s versatility to the extreme, he credits his flexibility as a major reason for lasting so long in the German top flight.
“Being adaptable is important,” he said. “I can only play in the Bundesliga because I’m able to adjust to the different requirements.”
Expectations in Frankfurt have been raised ahead of the final sprint, but - if Hasebe and his teammates adapt to them quickly - it could become another unforgettable season for the Eagles.