High-pressure situations tend to bring out either the best or worst in people: either you step up, or you crumble. Yuya Osako belongs very much in the first category after leading Werder Bremen’s charge against Cologne on Matchday 34 as they snatched the relegation play-off spot from Fortuna Düsseldorf.
The outlook was bleak, to say the least, for Bremen at kick-off. They had been stuck in 17th place – one of the two automatic relegation spots - since Matchday 20, and were two points adrift of Düsseldorf in 16th, while outright safety was no longer possible.
In order to grant themselves a stay of execution via the promotion/relegation play-offs, they had to win big. Not only that, Florian Kohfeldt’s side also needed Fortuna to slip up away to a Union Berlin side that had lost 4-0 to Hoffenheim the previous week and had nothing but pride left to play for.
Add into the mix Bremen’s place in history as the club to have played more top-flight games than anyone else in Germany, having only been relegated once (in 1979/80), and you get a sense of the weight of the occasion.
How to settle those final-day nerves? Osako had just the tonic. Peeling off his marker in the 22nd minute, he collected Maximilian Eggestein’s pass inside the Cologne box before calmly placing a shot past Timo Horn. Just five minutes later he was involved again, providing the assist as Milot Rashica doubled Bremen’s advantage. Two minutes after that, Werder were 3-0 ahead.
“He’s a player who’s better when he’s got a defender on him than when he’s got a lot of room to play in,” said Kohfeldt of Osako earlier this season, perhaps explaining the Japan international’s ability to thrive when the heat is on.
He continued to cause problems all game in his preferred position as a playmaker just behind the strikers, and after Davy Klaassen had put the home side 4-0 ahead, Osako scored again - his fourth in his last four games and his second brace of the season.
Ordinarily such a strike might not be important, but with goal difference a potential factor if Düsseldorf were to draw with Union Berlin (they ultimately lost 3-0), it was hugely significant in this context. Come the final whistle, Bremen were celebrating a 6-1 triumph, having scored 14 per cent of their season’s total (42) in just one game
“The boys executed our game plan well today,” said Kohfeldt at full time. “The pressure on them was massive, just as it was in the games against Freiburg and Paderborn. We knew that we’d be relegated if we didn’t win today and we were aware we didn’t have matters all in our own hands either.”
Watch: Bremen defender Niklas Moisander says the job is not done yet after his side's Matchday 34 victory
Bremen will be firmly in control of their own destiny in the play-offs, however, where they are likely to meet either Heidenheim or Hamburg, who are vying for third place as the Bundesliga 2 season reaches its climax on Sunday.
Two more high-pressure fixtures await, then, on 2 and 6 July, but with eight-goal top scorer Osako in this kind of form, maybe Kohfeldt has nothing to worry about.