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Struggling Sanfrecce confident of escaping drop

by

Kyodo

Mihael Mikic believes the relegation fear factor is inspiring misfiring Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and the Croatian winger insists he will put “an arm and a leg” on the three-time J. League champions escaping the drop.

Hiroshima was the better team for long stretches of Saturday’s match away to Kawasaki Frontale, but a 1-0 defeat saw Hajime Moriyasu’s men drop to second-from-bottom in the first division approaching the midway point of the season.

Sanfrecce have had to deal with the loss of several key personnel from last season and have won just twice in the league this year, but Mikic, 37, believes the team is turning a corner.

“When I saw the fixture list at the start of the season and saw who we were up against in the first four games, I said to myself this could go two ways: If we have a good start and take 10 points, then we will have confidence and can again be fighting for the championship,” Mikic told Kyodo News after Saturday’s game.

“But if we don’t start well then we will have problems, because maybe confidence will drop and maybe we will get scared when we are not winning against teams that are not up around the top of the table.”

“In the end we had more chances (against Frontale) and again were unlucky but that is symptomatic of our season,” Mikic continued. “When the season is going so badly you have no luck. Everything has come on top of us at once.

“That fear factor makes it hard, but today’s game and the way we played in the second half (in the previous game) against Kashima Antlers has given me hope because we are once again playing our game, I think.”

Hiroshima has struggled in front of goal so far this term, managing just 12 goals in 15 games.

That stat is hardly surprising considering the loss of last season’s J. League first-division joint top scorer, Peter Utaka, and national team forward Takuma Asano.

Sanfrecce were unable to meet 19-goal striker Utaka’s wage demands and he was shipped out on loan to FC Tokyo in March, while Asano signed for Arsenal midway through last season and is currently on loan at German club Stuttgart.

Although not a regular starter, veteran striker Hisato Sato moved to second-division club Nagoya Grampus and his influence on the training ground has been sorely missed.

“We have lost too many good and experienced players and it is not easy. Every year we lose players, one or two of the starters, but almost every year our management has done a good job in signing new players,” said Mikic.

“It is not that we have had bad players that have come in this year but . . . in the end we will be OK.

“I believe that we will get out of the relegation zone. I will put my right foot and right hand on us staying in J1 and we will fight to the end.”

In addition to the attacking players, defender Tsukasa Shiotani has accepted an offer from Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates and he is set to join the 2003 Asian Champions League winners next month.

“Obviously it can happen that players move during the middle of the season,” said Hiroshima manager Moriyasu. “You have to deal with these changes like you deal with injuries and suspensions.”

Moriyasu singled out Hiroshima’s lack of a ruthless streak in front of goal as the main reason for his side’s downfall this season.

“One thing it comes down to is a lack of decisiveness in attack,” he said. “We made a load of chances (against Frontale) and it is just about putting them away. If we do that then it will bring about more resilience defensively.

“There are a lot of changes in the team this year, with players and some of the staff and we just have to cope.

“I am not going to use (those changes) as an excuse. We have to be more decisive and score goals and we also have to find a game plan that will get us out of the relegation zone.”