Although Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Hisato Sato was at the forefront of their maiden league title, two attacking midfielders who play just in behind the 2012 J.League MVP have been instrumental in adding an edge to the side’s forward-thinking style. A style which guided the club to league success and now victory over Auckland City FC, here in the opening game of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012.
In addition to providing a creative spark up front for Sanfrecce, Yojiro Takahagi and Koji Morisaki also share another bond – they come from areas that have suffered nuclear disasters.
Takahagi was a constant danger against Auckland, and went close to scoring with a stunning shot directly from a corner that rattled the post. “It was a tough game, and it was important that we won,” the 26-year-old told FIFA.com. “That shot went just as I had planned, and I thought it was going in, but it hit the post and bounced away. I want to score a goal like that and make my name more widely known.”
But it is not just personal glory that is driving Takahagi to seek the spotlight. Rather, he wants to inspire people and raise awareness of his hometown of Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture, an area that was ravaged by the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The disaster directly affected Takahagi, whose family’s home was damaged by the tsunami.
“Although my family’s home has been repaired and they’re back living there now, many people have had to move away,” he said. “Lots of people are living in temporary housing because their homes were swept away by the tsunami. I want all the people around the world watching this event to see me – a person from the disaster area – playing and contributing on the field. And I want them to realise that the road to recovery in many areas will be very long. I think that’s my responsibility.”
In addition to the natural disaster, the ensuing meltdown crisis at the Fukushima No1 nuclear power plant forced many residents to evacuate. In some areas, outdoor activities are still restricted due to radiation fears. Like many J.League players, Takahagi has spent much of his free time helping out with low-profile rebuilding activities.
He is particularly keen to keep the reality of life in the disaster areas in the public eye, with sparkling performances on the football field one way Takahagi can ensure the attention focused on Fukushima does not wane.
“We won the J.League this year, I was picked in the Best XI, and now I’m taking part in this global club tournament,” he continued. “It’s important to me that I play well so people will see me and stay aware of what’s going on in Fukushima.
"Many people are still struggling in the hard-hit areas. I want to play well and hopefully give them something to smile about. It might be difficult for life to return to the way it used to be, but through the power of football, I want the world to watch what’s happening in Fukushima. I hope they won’t forget my home prefecture.”
Should the Purple Archers defeat Al-Ahly, a mouth-watering match against Brazilian heavyweights Corinthians awaits. Takahagi is not taking victory for granted, but he is confident Sanfrecce have the quality to progress to the semi-finals.
“Al-Ahly are a very skilled team with many quick, powerful players,” he said. “We want to play a free-flowing passing game and stay organised on the pitch. We want to show the world what Sanfrecce football is about, and win this game to reach the semi-finals.”
Alongside Takahagi in the team’s 3-4-2-1 formation, veteran Morisaki has been at the heart of many of Sanfrecce’s attacking forays this season. Born and raised in Hiroshima, Morisaki came through Sanfrecce’s acclaimed youth academy and has played his entire career for the club.
To many people, Hiroshima is best known as the first city to be attacked with an atomic bomb in 1945. Morisaki is proud that Hiroshima is now a vibrant metropolis, and hopes this can encourage people affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
“I think people all around the world know an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima,” said the 31-year-old, whose twin brother, Kazuyuki, also plays in midfield for Sanfrecce. “Reconstructing the city took decades, but it’s now a wonderful place. I think this tournament is a chance for us to show people in the Tohoku region that we have a fantastic football team here. Hopefully that will give strength to everyone going through a rough time in Tohoku.”
Capping this calendar year with triumph at Japan 2012 would be the ideal way to show the world another side of Hiroshima, according to Morisaki. “I want to win as many titles as I can and make Hiroshima a big club,” he said. “I want to make Sanfrecce big not only in Asia, but around the world.”