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Sanfrecce target Club World Cup final

Kyodo

Sanfrecce Hiroshima hope to go where no J. League or Asian team has gone before — the Club World Cup final.

Not even their big-budgeted predecessors Urawa Reds (2007), Gamba Osaka (2008) and Kashiwa Reysol (2011) were able to reach the final, but Hiroshima believes it has every chance of making it to Nissan Stadium on Dec. 16 once it beats Egypt’s Al-Ahly in Sunday’s quarterfinal.

“Urawa, Gamba and Kashiwa all made it to the semifinals,” Sanfrecce captain Hisato Sato said. “If we beat Al-Ahly, we give ourselves an opportunity to top what they achieved.”

Sato and J. League champions Sanfrecce are coming off a 1-0 win over Auckland City in the opening match on Thursday.

Hiroshima dominated for the most part against the amateurs from New Zealand, but J. League Player of the Year Sato is expecting a completely different proposition from African champions Al-Ahly at Toyota Stadium.

“We were able to win our first match on the world stage, but Al-Ahly and Corinthians — who we could later face — will be on an entirely different level from Auckland City,” Sato said.

“We made some minor errors in the Auckland game which we’ll have to avoid if we want to stand a chance against Al-Ahly. Looking back on the last game, I thought Auckland paid us too much respect.

“I can’t see that happening with Al-Ahly, who are African champions. I expect us to see less time on the ball in our next game.”

Victory over Al-Ahly would pit Hajime Moriyasu’s men versus Corinthians, the inaugural Club World Cup champions, in the last four. A win against the Sao Paulo side would take Hiroshima to the final, where it will likely meet European champions Chelsea.

Chelsea will play either Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai or Monterrey of Mexico — who also clash Sunday — in Thursday’s semifinal at Yokohama.

Al-Ahly will make its fourth Club World Cup appearance after winning the African Champions League on the heels of a cancelled Egyptian season due to the Port Said Stadium disaster in which 72 fans were killed.

Moriyasu admitted Al-Ahly remains something of a mystery to him, but was confident his troops would come through, just as they did on Thursday.

“We don’t have a great deal of information on our next opponents because there’s only so much film available on them,” first-year coach Moriyasu said.

“It will come down to how well we can execute, knowing little about the other team. But the boys held their nerves and played well enough to win it, which was the most important thing. I expect us to build on the performance next time out.”