Goal Asia will list its top-30 EAFF clubs, featuring the heavyweights of Japan, China, Australia, South Korea and Hong Kong. This time, it is Sanfrecce Hiroshima who are the focus
|By DAN ORLOWITZ
Until last year, Sanfrecce Hiroshima may not have been well known outside of Japan, but within the country they have been pioneers of the sport. As the Tokyo Kogyo Skyukyu Club, they completed the nation's first double when they won the semi-professional Japan Soccer League and the Emperor's Cup in 1965. Four years later, they participated in the Asian Club Cup, becoming the first Japanese club to participate in a continental tournament.
As Mazda SC in the 1980s, the club were managed by Dutchman Hans Ooft, who went on to become the first foreign coach of the Japan national team. Then, in 1992, Sanfrecce were one of 10 clubs to found the fully-professional J-League.
But far from the seats of power located in the Kansai [west] and Kanto [east] areas, Sanfrecce struggled to raise attendance and produce results. A second-placed finish in the 1994 season and four runners-up results in the Emperor's Cup were the best they could manage until their shock relegation to the second division in 2007 heralded an era of change under manager Mihailo Petrovic, who guided the team back to J1 and even to a place in the 2010 AFC Champions League.
Two years later, under the direction of manager Hajime Moriyasu, the Purple Archers captured their first J-League Division 1 crown with one week to spare after scoring the second-highest and allowing the third-fewest goals in the league.
Hiroshima Big Arch opened in 1992 as one of three venues to host that year's Asian Cup. It was the setting of Japan's first continental victory, when they won 1-0 over defending champions Saudi Arabia.
A multi-purpose stadium capable of holding 50,000 fans, Big Arch has often been criticized for the distance between the stands and the pitch as well as a lack of roofing over most of the seating areas. The stadium's distance from the city center has prevented Sanfrecce from competing with the Hiroshima Carp, the city's baseball team. While the Purple Archers have leveraged their 2012 title run into a campaign for a new football-specific stadium to be constructed, the front office and the city have yet to agree on a proposal.
Sanfrecce boasts one of Japan’s most developed youth programs, with Under-18, U-15, and U-12 clubs in addition to several affiliated schools and academies. Their system has produced a number of professional players, including Sanfrecce veterans Yojiro Takahagi and Ryota Moriwaki, Urawa Reds starters Yosuke Kashiwagi and Tomoaki Makino and FC Tokyo captain Masato Morishige.
|STAR PLAYER - HISATO SATO
Now in his eighth year with the club, Sato has captured the hearts and minds of supporters across the country as Japan's best domestic striker. He's recorded double-digit tallies in every season since 2004, and captured last season's Golden Boot with 22 goals in addition to being named the J-League MVP.
Sato has never firmly entered the national team picture and has little chance of breaking through under coach Alberto Zaccheroni. But as one of a dwindling number of players who have played their entire career in their homeland, his personality and his performance will forever make him a Japanese icon.
|THE MANAGER - HAJIME MORIYASU
A long-time coach at the club, Moriyasu was promoted to the managerial role in order to preserve the style of play implemented by previous manager Mihailo Petrovic. Having spent the majority of his 16-year playing career at Sanfrecce, the 44-year-old was perhaps most suited to bringing the club their first Division 1 title.
Moriyasu, himself a former Japan international, was the first Japanese manager since Gamba Osaka’s Akira Nishino in 2005 to win the league. In a league where many believe that foreign coaches are a necessity, his accomplishments brought no shortage of pride to club, city, and country.
See the other nominations to Goal Asia's top-30 EAFF clubs: