J.League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima claimed fifth place at the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup, beating East Asian rivals Ulsan Hyundai of Korea Republic 3-2 in Toyota to bow out of the world club finals on a high note.

Korean outfit Ulsan, so defensive in their 3-1 loss to Mexico’s Monterrey, looked a more adventurous side against Sanfrecce. After only two minutes, Ko Seulki fired in a speculative effort from miles out that curled toward the goal but never really troubled Shusaku Nishikawa, who returned to the Hiroshima goal after a facial injury forced him out of the loss to Al-Ahly.

Rafinha also hit wide after combining with towering striker Lee Shinwook a few minutes later. The giant No9 was looking more dangerous than he had in the first match, making good on his promise to “change tactics in order to score some goals.”

Sanfrecce coach Hajime Moriyasu made a number of changes to his squad, most notably opting to leave out speedy Croatian wing-back Mihael Mikic. Their first shot came after 17 minutes, Yojiro Takahagi firing wide from the edge of the box after combining well with Hisato Sato.

It was a false dawn for the J.League men, too, as Ulsan took the lead, their pressure paying off. A ball from midfield bounced to Kim Seung Yong, who flicked on with his head. Rafinha, applying pressure, forced Hiroki Mizumoto to poke the ball past his onrushing goalkeeper to open the scoring with an unfortunate own-goal.

The Japanese drew level in the 35th minute as an otherwise dull half sparked suddenly to life. Sato’s header forced a brilliant diving save out of Kim Youngkwang from a Koji Morisaki free-kick, and Satoru Yamagishi was alert to stab home the rebound from inches out.

Ulsan nearly took the lead again in the dying moments of the opening period, but Lee Shinwook’s right-footed effort slammed against the crossbar after he was teed up by recently crowned 2012 Asian player of the year Lee Keunho.

Sato has his say
The second half began with a flurry of attacks, both sides bypassing midfield and pushing forward. A Lee Keunho header was well saved by Nishikawa in a great chance for Ulsan, which immediately came back to haunt them in the 56th minute when, at the other end, Sato poked home a cross from Yamagishi to make the score 2-1 for the home side.

Top scorer in the J.League this term, Sato added another goal after 72 minutes, stabbing home from close range after a fine ball from the outstanding Takahagi. It was Sato’s third goal of the finals, making him top-scorer at the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup, for the time being at least.

Ulsan battled back bravely and pulled one back deep into stoppage time when a free-kick from Lee Yong evaded attackers and defenders both to nestle inside the far post. Victorious Sanfrecce Hiroshima finish the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup in fifth place, claiming the bragging rights over their Korean neighbours, who take sixth, ahead of last-place Auckland City.