Sanfrecce Hiroshima weren’t among the favorites to win the J. League this season, but they did. And no one was sure if Hajime Moriyasu’s men had enough left in the tank for the Club World Cup, but they’ve managed to win two of two so far.

Wednesday’s semifinal against South American champions River Plate will be no different for Sanfrecce, just another game for them to disprove the critics — and potentially become the first Japanese club to reach the Club World Cup final.

“The more you play, the greedier you get,” Sanfrecce striker Hisato Sato said on Monday, the morning after his team swept past African champions TP Mazembe 3-0 in a quarterfinal at Nagai Stadium. “We want to play Barcelona in the final.

“There will be a lot more attention on us the next game. To some fans, it might be more interesting than World Cup qualifying. We’ve come this far, we have no intention of being pushed around.”

“We’ve been great as a team with the injuries we’ve had,” he continued. “We’ve shown the depth of our squad. We’re looking forward to playing the South American champions.”

Sunday’s game was the fourth in 11 days for Moriyasu’s men, who are not hiding the fact that they are spent after a long domestic season and as a result of the condensed fixtures of the Club World Cup.

The punishing schedule has claimed two Sanfrecce players to injury — Gakuto Notsuda and Kohei Shibasaki, both of whom are out for the year — and the team still has the Emperor’s Cup to finish out after the Club World Cup.

“It’s tough for sure, with only two days in between games,” said Sato, the J. League’s career co-leading scorer alongside Masashi Nakayama. “All you can do, really, is try to recover as fast as you can.”

As always with the Copa Libertadores winners, Argentine side River Plate will be more than determined to lift the Club World Cup, a trophy that carries far more weight in South America than it does in Europe.

Sato is fully aware of River’s obsession with the title — it’s estimated that 15,000 River fans will travel for this tournament from Argentina — and know they will be an entirely different prospect compared to Mazembe, which Sanfrecce dismissed with surprising ease.

But Hiroshima, which works with a relatively small budget even by J. League standards, is enjoying the international spotlight which it often doesn’t get and will be out to seize yet another opportunity to prove people wrong.

Victory on Wednesday would pit Sanfrecce against either Barcelona or Guangzhou Evergrande, who square off in the other Club World Cup semifinal Thursday in Yokohama.

“It’s probably safe to say they’ve got more quality than we do,” Sato said of River Plate, the three-time South American champions. “They’ll put us under a fair amount of pressure and it won’t be like yesterday.

“I don’t think Mazembe took us very seriously. It certainly didn’t seem like they scouted us because tactically, they couldn’t match up. Even in the J. League, we have a more difficult time passing the ball around.

“River Plate will definitely try to take away our strengths. They’re not going to give us a whole lot. We have to be sure to take the few chances we get.”

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