After Wednesday’s 3-2 win over AFC Champions League winners Ulsan Hyundai that secured Sanfrecce Hiroshima fifth place at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012, FIFA.com spoke to the Japanese outfit’s star striker Hisato Sato and defensive midfielder Kazuyuki Morisaki. Clearly delighted by their victory at the Toyota Stadium, with which the J-League champions rounded off their first ever trip to these global finals, they are already setting their sights on returning for next year’s competition.
Sato in particular played an integral part in Sanfrecce’s win, given he was involved in all three of his team’s goals. This display came on top of a phenomenal J-League campaign, during which he topped the scorers’ standings with 22 goals, was included in the league’s all-star XI and was crowned the league’s Best and Fairest player – all in all a remarkable quadruple.
What is more, as J-League Champions, Sanfrecce will take part in the 2013 AFC Champions League, which guarantees its winners a place at that year’s FIFA Club World Cup, to be held in Morocco. “I would really have liked to go through to the semi finals here, to tell you the truth,” said Sato, though he preferred to focus on the positives of Japan 2012. “That said, it was still great to get the opportunity to play on a world stage like the Club World Cup and take on the Asian champions.
“We felt obliged to win the game and we were under so much pressure to beat them, even though they are the Asian champions,” he continued. “So, mentally, it was tough. But we still managed to defeat them and come fifth in the tournament. This is a big confidence-booster for us. For me personally as well, now that I know I can do well at this level.
“As far as the team goes, we realised that we don’t always have to adapt our style, even if our opponents are supposed to be a better side than us. Instead, we can still play our football whilst also staying on top of their play – which is what I think we were able to do. In that sense it was great for our confidence and, thanks to this experience, we feel as though we can definitely do well in the Champions League next season.”
Having turned 30 in March this year, Sato’s performance has shown no sign of deteriorating. On the contrary in fact, with the player is using his experience to good effect and showing an ever sharper eye for goal – even though he still feels this is the weakest aspect of his game.
“I should have buried some of the chances I had against Al-Ahly. At this level, that’s what makes the difference,” he stated, referring to the 2-1 quarter-final reverse against the African champions. “People decide whether you are a good player or bad player depending upon whether or not you take those kinds of chances. And of course, as a team, the result would have been different if I’d got those goals.
“On the world stage, I feel that one chance can make massive difference in the result. If there is a goal opportunity, you must take it. I want to try my hardest and completely reach my potential. I know it may not be possible to take every single chance, but that’s my ultimate goal. I want to take what I’ve learned through this tournament into next season, taking advantage of the experience,” Sato concluded.
Twin tower looks ahead
Morisaki, for his part, was born and bred in Hiroshima and is a product of Sanfrecce’s youth academy. Voted the J-League’s Young Player of the Year in 2000, he epitomises the talent-nurturing philosophy of a club known for its productive youth system. Along with his twin brother Koji, Morisaki has been part of the team over a decade and, just like Sato, he is already looking forward to next season.
“We managed to play our own football against the Asian champions, while even though we never came back from behind to win a game in the league this season we did so here - which I think is an added bonus,” said Morisaki.
“This will give us confidence for next season. Japan needs to stay at the top in Asian football, though no Japanese club have won an Asian club competition for a while now. However, Korean teams are very different on home soil and they are very strong. So, whether we’re able to overcome them will be one of the most important aspects of our Champions League campaign.”
Sanfrecce are hailed as a model club in Japanese football, in the sense that they won the league title with several players that came through their youth ranks, exemplified by the Morisaki twins. “We are renowned for our youth system and this season we had a number of first-team starters who came up through the ranks,” continued the midfield man. “I think this will give high hopes and dreams to those youngsters who are currently with our youth and junior teams.
“They may have felt before that they could only win the championship by moving away from here, but this season we proved that at Sanfrecce we can win the title too,” he said as the interview concluded. “It also proved what those youth-team coaches have been doing was right. I really hope the youth players will stay in Hiroshima and aim to break into the first team here.”
More confident in their ability both as individuals and as a team following this FIFA Club World Cup experience, Sanfrecce’s players have given license to dream not just to their own youth ranks, but to the whole of Japanese football.