Words by Paul Wilson
Sanfrecce are Hiroshima’s biggest association football (soccer) team and the ‘Big-Arch’, a 50,000 capacity stadium north of Hiroshima city, is home to the 2012 J-League 1 Champions.
The name derives from a powerful local daimyou in the 16th Century, Mouri Motonari. Legend has it that he tied his three son’s arrows together to show them that they were stronger together. There was a trend in the 90’s to add words from French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese to J-League club names. This is where the name san (three) frecce (arrow) was derived.
Even the most optimistic of Sanfrecce supporters would admit being surprised by last year’s monumental success. Finishing 7th in 2011 and losing star defender Tadanari Lee to English premier league club Southampton, and without any major signings, prospects didn’t look great for 2012. Along with the loss of manager Mihailo Petrović to rivals Urawa Reds (Saitama) after 5 years at the club, even a mid-table J-League 1 finish was looking optimistic.
However the team’s consistency throughout the season under new manager Hajime Moriyasu saw them resist a strong challenge from Vegalta Sendai, particularly during the final games of the championship.
Captain, talisman, and inspirational striker Hisato Sato smashed-home 22 league goals in 34 appearances. He not only finished J-League 1 as the top scorer but was voted the league’s most valuable player. Sato’s 132 goals in 260 Sanfrecce appearances to date is a prolific strike rate in any league. Yet despite his heroic efforts he hasn’t made an appearance for Japan’s national team since 2010.
Causing double-vision for opposing teams, the Hiroshima-born Morisaki twins control Sanfrecce’s midfield. Alongside them is Kurashiki (Okayama) born midfielder Aoyama, known for his long-ranged shooting. Sports news media around the world reported his stupendous goal from inside his own half last season – a breath-taking 65m shot.
Other players to watch are the young Korean international Hwang-Seok Ho and Mihael Mikić. The former likes to charge-up excitedly from defence to join the Sanfrecce attack. The creative, but often infuriatingly wasteful Mikić is a constant threat with his speed and skill on the wing.
Pointless so far in the Asian Champions League group-stage, Sanfrecce are staring elimination in the face after just three games. Although it would be an all too brief appearance in Asia’s biggest club football tournament, qualification was another reward for their championship-winning efforts of last year.
As of April 3rd, they were occupying 5th place in J-League 1 after 5 games, 5 points adrift of fast starting leaders Yokohama Marinos. Sanfrecce also had an uninspiring start last season, so no-one should rule-out another title challenge. Captain Sato scored his first goals of the season in last week’s 4-0 win over Shimizu S-Pulse, so it’s game-on!
To get to the Big Arch you need to ride the ASTRAM to its final stop, followed by a 5 minute walk to the stadium.
Match tickets can be bought easily on match-day, prices are around ￥2000.
With a family friendly atmosphere, hot food, drinks and even alcoholic beverages available, a great afternoon can be enjoyed by all!