YOKOHAMA – J.League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima secured safe passage into the Club World Cup quarterfinals with a 1-0 win over New Zealand’s Auckland City in the tournament opener on Thursday.
Sanfrecce went into haltime goalless at Nissan Stadium after stubborn resistance from the Oceania champions, but a 66th-minute piledriver from Toshihiro Aoyama was enough to settle the matter.
Sanfrecce now face African champions Al-Ahly at Toyota Stadium on Sunday, with the winner earning a crack at Brazilian side Corinthians three days later.
“We weren’t able to prepare properly for this first game, but the players did their best and were very motivated to do well,” said Sanfrecce manager Hajime Moriyasu. “We only scored one goal, but we made a lot of chances and were very aggressive.
“Now we have only two rest days, so I hope the players can get ready in time for the next game. We’ll be looking to do our best and win it.”
Sanfrecce ended the J.League season last Saturday having won their first-ever championship, and Aoyama is keen to keep the momentum going.
“I’m not trying to do anything differently,” said the midfielder. “Sanfrecce play a very attacking style of football, so maybe the reason why I have been scoring more goals recently is because of that. But if we could have taken our chances tonight we could have scored more.”
Sanfrecce pressed hard for an opener in the game’s early stages, with Aoyama and Yojiro Takahagi both going close before a wayward touch in the Auckland defense almost gifted the Japanese side a goal for nothing.
Auckland continued to hold firm for the rest of the first half, but Sanfrecce returned after the break with all guns blazing and Takahagi hit the post before Koji Morisaki tested goalkeeper Tamati Williams with a header within the space of a minute.
Another flurry of activity saw Williams deny substitute Satoru Yamagishi with a brilliant reaction save, but there was nothing the ‘keeper could do when Aoyama let fly moments later. The 26-year-old picked up the ball outside the box, then arrowed a dipping shot into the top corner of the net.
Koji Morisaki almost added another with a free kick before Ryota Moriwaki hit the crossbar, but Auckland gave Sanfrecce some nervous moments in the moments before the final whistle blew.
“We have to be very happy with the game we played,” said Auckland manager Ramon Tribulietx. “Don’t forget that we are an amateur team. Coming here to play Hiroshima is very hard. Even at 1-0 down we stood up and almost got an equalizer, so we can hold our heads up.”