QUIETLY, QUIETLY, the FIFA Club World Cup kicked-off in Yokohama’s impressive stadium (left) with Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima beating Auckland City in the play-off to see who went through to the last six. Only 19,000 people attended the game, which Sanfrecce won 2-0. Yusuke Minagawa and Tsukasa Shiotani scored the goals, one early on and the decisive second 20 minutes from time.
People ask why Japan is frequently chosen to host this annual event, which is still struggling to make any sort of wave of interest in Europe. Game of the People has a theory.
Since the competition became a yearly gig, it has been hosted in Japan (seven times), the United Arab Emirates (twice) and Morocco (twice). Aside from “spreading the love” and the possibility that sponsorship has been more readily available from those regions, it could just be that FIFA, realising the commercial benefits of having a host nation club to keep the competition bubbling, doesn’t want a significant club side to be playing “mine host”. In other words, a really strong host may steal the show. FIFA undoubtedly wants one of the winners of their confederations’ major competitions to come out on top. No danger of that happening in Japan, Morocco or the UAE.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima may be a benign force at this year’s Club World Cup, but they could well reach the last four. They face TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Osaka on December 13, with the winners facing Argentina’s River Plate.
Sanfrecce may find TP Mazembe a tougher proposition than the New Zealanders. Les Corbeaux (the Ravens) won the CAF Champions League for the third time in seven years in 2015, beating Algeria’s USM Alger in the two-legged final 4-1 on aggregate. They reached the final of the Club World Cup in 2010, losing to Inter Milan.
The Japanese are no fools, though, having won the J-League three times in four years. They secured the 2015 title (a new format for Japan, incidentally) by beating holders Gamba Osaka 4-3 on aggregate. The star man was 21 year-old Takuma Asano, who has been earmarked as a player who could become one of Japan’s greatest ever. Asano, who has already been capped by the “Samurai Blue” three times, scored the vital goal to clinch the J-League for Sanfrecce.
Another man to watch is Douglas, currently on loan from Tokushima Vortis. He was Sanfrecce’s top scorer in the league this season with 21 goals. Game of the People saw him in action last year in a J-League Cup game at Urawa.
Sanfrecce play at the Hiroshima Big Arch stadium, attracting around 17,000 people to its games. The club was formed in 1938 and has had a series of names throughout its history. It was originally founded as a company team, Toyo Kogyo Soccer Club. Later known as Mazda Sports, they became Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 1992. They have had some famous names involved on the coaching side: Wim Jansen, a member of the Dutch 1974 World Cup team; Stuart Baxter, the travelling Scot who managed all over the world; and Bill Foulkes, a member of the Manchester United 1968 European Cup winning team.
FIFA Club World Cup
December 13 games
Club America (Mexico) v Guangzhou Evergrande (China)
Sanfrecce Hiroshima (Japan) v TP Mazembe (Dem Rep of Congo)
(both in Osaka)