Japan’s expectations soar for Club World Cup 2016

The FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2015 closed with Barcelona becoming the first club to be crowned champions for a third time. Japan will host the 2016 Club World Cup, so FIFA.com spoke with three prominent figures of Japanese football about their thoughts on the 2015 global tournament and their expectations for next year’s event.

Japan Football Association Vice President Kohzo Tashima was delighted the Club World Cup returned to Japan in 2015 following two years in Morocco.

“I’d been eagerly awaiting this tournament,” Tashima said. “The Club World Cup originally started in 1981 as a one-off match between the champions of Europe and South America. In the years since then, we’ve shaped the tournament into what it is today – an event featuring the champion clubs of each continent. In that regard, Japanese people have an extraordinary emotional attachment to this event.”

Tashima felt the third-place play-off between two Asian clubs – Sanfrecce Hiroshima of Japan, and Guangzhou Evergrande of China – was a clear indication of the continent’s growing football strength.

“Guangzhou have some fantastic players, and most of their Chinese players have represented the national team. They are worthy of being Asian champions,” said Tashima, who also is a member of the FIFA Executive Committee and a vice president of the East Asian Football Federation. “Sanfrecce were this season’s J.League champions, and they performed brilliantly to finish third at the Club World Cup.”

Sanfrecce’s 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Evergrande in the third-place play-off was even more remarkable given the hectic schedule Hajime Moriyasu’s squad had endured during the previous few weeks.

“Just days after defeating Gamba Osaka in a two-leg final to win the J.League title, Hiroshima triumphed over Auckland City FC, then TP Mazembe,” Tashima explained. Although the Purple Archers were edged by Argentinian giants River Plate in the semi-finals, they picked themselves up to finish the Club World Cup – and the season – on a high.

“The team was well coached. I’m pleased the host nation representative was able to finish third. As a vice president of the EAFF, I could not be happier that two teams from East Asia advanced to this match. The Club World Cup illustrated that Asian football is going from strength to strength. I’m certain this will boost national teams from this region too.”

The success of the 2015 Club World Cup and the construction of some new stadiums have made Tashima optimistic that Japan should bid to host more major football events in 2016 and beyond.

“This year, Club World Cup games were played in Osaka for the first time. The city is also home to a new football stadium that will be available from 2016,” Tashima concluded. “In the next few years, a new National Stadium will be built in Tokyo. I really hope Japan will continue to host the Club World Cup. Of course, we also have the stadium in Yokohama that hosted this year’s final. Everyone can look forward to what we offer here.”

J.League, F.League keen to ride cup’s wave Sanfrecce’s sparkling performances at the Club World Cup have encouraged high-profile figures from various leagues in Japan and generated optimism about the future development of the game here.

Miki Sato, who in 2015 was appointed as the J.League’s new “Female Manager” who conducts various public relations activities to promote the league, watched about 40 clubs from the first and second divisions play this season and was “thrilled” Sanfrecce played with pride as J.League champions. Sato was especially impressed with the determination shown by Hiroshima.

“I was worried that the tough schedule might affect the players physically and mentally,” the model and TV personality admitted. “But it was inspiring to see the team dig deep and compete hard until the very end. Every player was involved in defence and attack, and even the defenders pressed forward in search of goal-scoring chances.”

Sato also enjoyed the energy the legions of River Plate supporters brought to their games in Japan.

“It was great to hear the chants of supporters of clubs from around the world. This created an atmosphere different from what we get at J.League games,” the 22-year-old said. “Many people came to Japan to watch this tournament. There were more flags than I’ve ever seen at a J.League game. These supporters created an atmosphere that resembled their own home stadium, and I could feel their passion for the team. I sensed that supporting a team is a part of life for them, and that they always stand behind their side in every game.”

For Sato, the commitment shown by a Japanese player who was not playing for Hiroshima was one highlight of this tournament. Auckland City left-back Takuya Iwata played well in the New Zealand club’s 2-0 loss to Sanfrecce in the tournament opener, and ended up with a bandaged head following an accidental collision that forced him from the field for several minutes.

“I was pleased to see a Japanese player filling an integral role for an overseas club, and he was the opposition player that I watched most closely. Iwata suffered a cut head, but he came back and played bravely until the end. I could tell he is a very committed player. I was surprised at how many Auckland City fans were Japanese.”

Given Sato’s role of drumming up domestic interest in the J.League, she is understandably already excited about the 2016 edition of the Club World Cup.

“I really hope a Japanese club will participate in that event by qualifying as the Asian champions,” she said. “If we can show more people that J.League teams are good enough to fare well on the global stage, we’ll gain more J.League supporters and have more spectators at league games, which will make them even more exciting. I’d love to see a J.League club go all the way to the final next year.”

Impact on the indoor game The tournament’s impact is even likely to be felt in Japan’s F.League – the championship dedicated to game’s five-a-side indoor variant futsal. For Jose Fernandez Cortina, the coach of the Voscuore Sendai professional futsal club, Barcelona’s participation was especially heart-warming – he was born in Barcelona and, until last season, had coached the Spanish giant’s U-19 team. According to Jose Fernandez, the football and futsal branches at Barcelona have close links.

“They’re different parts of the club, but there were many exchanges and interactions between players. Many of Barcelona’s young players, such as Sandro Ramirez and Munir El Haddadi, would come to watch our futsal games. Some of the senior team’s stars such as Andres Iniesta and the Brazilian players would watch, too,” he explained. “Some of them would even watch the futsal B team’s games and other teams down the chain.”

The 33-year-old coach believes having clubs such as Barcelona playing in Japan will bring long-term benefits to the sport in the country.

“I think Barcelona’s visit was wonderful for Japan,” he said. “I enjoyed watching them play. We saw their triangular passing, and the players always face the goal when they make their first touch. These are vital skills that are effective in football and futsal. I think many people, especially children, would have been inspired by seeing up-close the world-class play of Iniesta and Neymar, who both started out as futsal players. I’m sure children who watched the Club World Cup will try to replicate what they saw when they go back and practice and play football themselves.”

Few would disagree that Barcelona’s appearance at the Club World Cup will undoubtedly have a major impact on young footballers in the Land of the Rising Sun. Many Japanese fans are already counting down to the 2016 edition in anticipation of being treated to another exhibition by some of the world’s finest players.