• Kyodo


Reigning J. League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima started preseason training on Thursday, with manager Hajime Moriyasu warning there are no guarantees his team will replicate its success from last season.

Sanfrecce deservedly won their third J. League championship title in four seasons and also finished third at the prestigious Club World Cup in Japan last month.

In addition to attempting to defend their league crown, Moriyasu’s men are back in the Asian Champions League for the first time in two seasons.

Moriyasu, who is in his fifth season in charge this year, said, “There are no guarantees that we are going to win matches or titles. We have to keep our feet on the ground.”

Although they have only had a short break of three weeks off, the players, including ace striker Hisato Sato and new signing Peter Utaka, looked to be in high spirits in training as they smiled and chatted during a 40-minute jogging session.

Sanfrecce face Gamba Osaka in the season curtain-raiser in the Fuji Xerox Super Cup in Yokohama on Feb. 20 before playing the winner of a playoff in their first ACL game in Group F three days later.

“Getting results in all the games we had one after another in December has been a good simulation for us,” said Moriyasu.

All eyes will be on Sato and 2015 J. League Golden Boot winner Yoshito Okubo when Hiroshima kicks off the league season at home to Kawasaki Frontale on Feb. 27.

Sato in November scored his 157th goal in the J. League first division to match the all-time record held by former Japan striker Masashi Nakayama, netting in a 5-0 rout of Shonan Bellmare that clinched the second-stage title and saw Hiroshima finish with the most points over the season.

Frontale hitman Okubo, the top scorer in the J. League for an unprecedented third year in a row last year, also has the J1 all-time scoring record in his sights, having netted 156 times.

“Yoshito and I are whipping up excitement in the J. League. Hopefully I will be the first one to break the record,” smiled Sato.

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