Sanfrecce Hiroshima
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The past
Originally the football club of what would become major automaker Mazda, Sanfrecce were one of the J.League’s ten founding teams in 1992. Under Scottish coach Stuart Baxter, Sanfrecce won the J.League’s first stage in 1994, but finished the two-stage season as runners-up. Hiroshima were demoted to the second division in 2002 and 2007, but returned to the top flight the following year both times. Hiroshima’s superb youth academy is the envy of clubs across Japan, and a clutch of players groomed through its development programme were instrumental in the club’s first J.League title in 2012.

The present
Under rookie manager Hajime Moriyasu, a former Hiroshima stalwart and defensive midfielder who represented Japan 35 times, Sanfrecce have adhered to an attacking style of football infused with a tenacious drive for success. Hiroshima’s achievements this season have centred around prolific striker Hisato Sato, the calming experience provided by veteran midfield Morisaki twins - Koji and Kazuyuki - with national team goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa orchestrating the defence. A comfortable 4-1 win over Cerezo Osaka combined with second-placed Vegalta Sendai’s 1-0 loss to Albirex Niigata in the J.League’s penultimate round sealed Hiroshima’s spot as the host nation’s representative at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012.

The future
Hiroshima’s commitment to nurturing its own players through its youth academy began paying off from about 2000. Its products are sprinkled through the current squad, including the Morisaki twins and midfielders Yojiro Takahagi, Toshihiro Aoyama and Kohei Shimiza, defender Ryota Moriwaki and forwards Ryuichi Hirashige and Junya Osaki. The development programme has become a model for other teams and looks set to keep the club in good stead for years to come.

Facts and figures
Former stars
Yahiro Kazama, Takuya Takagi, Hajime Moriyasu, Ivan Hasek, Kenichi Uemura, Hiroshige Yanagimoto, Takashi Shimoda, Hiroyoshi Kuwabara, Pieter Huistra, Tatsuhiko Kubo, Kota Hattori, Chikara Fujimoto, Tony Popovic, Hayden Foxe, Yuichi Komano, Marcus Tulio Tanaka, Cesar Sampaio, Norio Omura, Ueslei, Yosuke Kashiwagi, Tomoaki Makino

Key players
Shusaku Nishikawa (goalkeeper), Hiroki Mizumoto (defender), Toshihiro Aoyama (midfielder), Koji Morisaki (midfielder), Kazuyuki Morisaki (midfielder), Yojiro Takahagi (midfielder), Mihael Mikic (midfielder), Hisato Sato (forward)

Qualifying statistics
Hiroshima booked their spot as Japan’s team at the FIFA Club Word Cup by winning the J.League, but they were pushed hard by Sendai, whose title charge finally came unstuck in the second-to-last round. Sanfrecce’s firepower up front blew away many title contenders during the season, including resounding wins over sides that have played in the FIFA Club World Cup before. A 4-1 victory over Gamba Osaka in Round 5 was followed by a 5-2 win over Kashiwa Reysol in Round 10. Hiroshima stood up to Vegalta’s challenge, drawing 2-2 away to Sendai in Round 16 before grabbing a vital 2-1 win at home in Round 25. The team’s ability to win crunch games laid the foundation for its first J.League crown with a game to spare.

The numbers game
10 - The number of players in Hiroshima’s squad who came through its youth academy.