Japanese veteran Hasebe: the unsung hero of Frankfurt's fairytale

From Serbian goalscorer Luka Jovic to French striker Sebastien Haller, Eintracht Frankfurt's unlikely run to the Europa League semi-finals this year has shone the spotlight on a number of young attacking talents in the ranks of the Bundesliga club.

Yet if Frankfurt are to defy the odds and overcome Chelsea in their semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge on Thursday, they will also need the experience and defensive leadership of Japanese elder statesman Makoto Hasebe.

While Jovic and others have turned heads with their tenacious pressing and explosive form in front of goal, former Japan captain Hasebe has been the unsung hero keeping the ship steady at the back.

The 35-year-old has played in every single minute of Frankfurt's Europa League campaign this season. Though he rarely grabs the headlines, he is an invaluable asset for coach Adi Huetter.

"Makoto is like a bottle of wine: the older he gets, the better he becomes," Huetter told Kicker magazine earlier this year.

"He is an absolutely key player for our team."

Hasebe, who captained Japan at three World Cups between 2010 and 2018, has remained a major figure at Eintracht since retiring from international football last year.

As a central defender and occasional defensive midfielder, he brings crucial stability to Frankfurt's often explosive style of football.

He played a key role in Frankfurt's odds-defying German Cup triumph last season, and was voted Asian International Footballer of the Year at the AFC Awards in 2018.

- 'Not one mistake' -

Aside from a brief injury absence in December, he has also been a stalwart of a successful Bundesliga campaign in which Frankfurt are targeting a top four finish and their first ever qualification for the Champions League.

Huetter, who replaced Niko Kovac as Frankfurt coach at the beginning of the season, told Kicker that he was amazed by Makoto's on-field discipline.

"In the two and a half months up until his injury, I didn't see him make one mistake, on or off the ball," he said.

"He has an amazing eye for through balls and can also anticipate balls very early in defence."

"I am not surprised that he was given the award last year, he absolutely deserved it."

Hasebe played under German coach Guido Buchwald at J-League club Urawa Red Diamonds, and later won the AFC Champions League with the club in 2007.

His success earned him a move to Germany, where he won the Bundesliga title with Wolfsburg in 2009.

After a brief spell at Nuremberg, he joined Frankfurt in 2014, and has since made 166 appearances for the club.

Speaking to the Bundesliga website last month, Hasebe claimed that his versatility is the key to his success in Germany.

"It's important to be able to adapt, I can play in lots of different positions," he said.

Having already snagged a league and cup winner's medal in Germany, Hasebe now hopes to go one step further by winning the Europa League with Frankfurt this season.

On their last legs at the end of a gruelling season, Frankfurt are underdogs against Chelsea, and will need Hasebe's experience more than ever if they are to spring a surprise.

"We need to keep concentrating and stay humble," he said.

For Hasebe at least, the man who makes no mistakes, and allows others to shine, concentration and humility shouldn't be a problem.