Hiroshima end hopeful Auckland’s glory hunt
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J.League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima have sent New Zealand’s Auckland City home early, beating the spirited part-timers 1-0 in the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012 opener. The purple-clad side from Hiroshima dominated the contest, played at the Yokohama-International Stadium - site of the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ final - and set up a date with African champions Al-Ahly in three days’ time.

Sanfrecce were in no mood for caution, or to respectfully feel their opponents out in the early stages. They pushed up the field, applying heavy pressure from the opening whistle.

It took only two minutes for the hosts to carve out a shooting chance, and six minutes after that they nearly opened the scoring. A clever back-heel out of midfield fell to 2012 J.League top-scorer Hisato Sato, who flicked on for Toshihiro Aoyama. The midfielder then forced Auckland keeper Tamati Williams into a fine diving save.

Roared on by their throngs of singing fans and noisy drummers, Sanfrecce kept pressing in search of an opener, totally dominating possession and making inroads up the right through speedy winger Mihael Mikic, a former youth international with Croatia. After 20 minutes, Yojiro Takahagi’s corner-kick rebounded back off the outside of the post. A follow-up shot from Koji Morisaki was pushed to safety by the busy Williams.

Auckland’s game-plan was clear: keep men behind the ball, break on the occasional counter-attack, and try to use their strength and size on set-pieces. Their first shot on goal came after 25 minutes, and caused Shusaku Nishikawa little trouble.

Sanfrecce took control of the second half straight away, with Takahagi slamming a shot from distance off the post just minutes into the period. Seconds after that, Morisaki rose well at the back post to head a cross from the lively Mikic that was batted away by Williams.

The home side finally got the goal their dominance deserved, when after a stretch of heavy pressure, Aoyama collected the ball 25 yards from goal and unleashed a devilish, swirling shot with his right-foot that swung over the Auckland City keeper and into the top corner of the net – the 200th goal in FIFA Club World Cup history. It proved enough to win the day for the Japanese side, who were well deserving of the victory with a cohesive and professional display.

Hiroshima now move on to play Al-Ahly in Toyota City on 9 December, the same day that Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai of Korea Republic open their Club World Cup account against CONCACAF toppers Monterrey of Mexico.