HOT SHOT SATO OUT TO FIRE SANFRECCE TO ACL GLORY
Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s hot shot striker Hisato Sato has set his sights on adding the AFC Champions League crown to the J.League title he won last year, when his goals steered the club to their first-ever domestic crown.
Sato was the J.League’s top scorer and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player after his 22 strikes paved the way for Hiroshima to top the standings for the first time since the start of the J.League back in 1993.
The win ensured Sanfrecce booked a place in the group stages of the AFC Champions League for only the second time in the club’s history and now Sato and his team-mates are lining themselves up for a run at the continental title.
“Our goal is to become Asian champions,” said the diminutive Japan international forward.
“We know we need to improve more in order to become champions, but I will fight with the pride that comes from being a Japanese footballer and I know what we can do.”
Sanfrecce’s success in the J.League last year earned them a berth at the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup as representatives of the event’s host nation and, as a result, Hajime Moriyasu’s side faced off against last year’s AFC Champions League winners Ulsan Hyundai.
The J.League side won that encounter 3-2 – with Sato scoring twice - to secure fifth place in the competition and give the 30-year-old a taste of what to expect in the 2013 AFC Champions League.
“We still have much to learn, however having played against the Asian champions, I feel like I have a few ideas,” said Sato, who celebrates his 31st birthday the day before his team’s meeting with China’s Beijing Guoan next week in the AFC Champions League.
“Firstly, we will focus on going through from the group stage and then we will see what happens next.”
Sanfrecce did endure a disappointing start to their AFC Champions League campaign after losing 2-0 at home to Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor in their opening game in Group G, which they also share with Beijing Guoan and former champions Pohang Steelers
The Japanese champions next travel to the Chinese capital to meet Beijing, who shared a goalless draw with 2009 AFC Champions League winners Pohang Steelers last week in Korea Republic, on March 13 and Sato will be hoping to fire his team to a more successful outcome than on Matchday One.
“I know for a fact that dwelling upon former glories never makes you a good football player,” said Sato.
“I know this because I’ve gone through some tough times as a professional player. I have to continue trying to succeed and trying to improve for the upcoming matches.
“We will be facing a real test of our strength this season, but I believe this struggle will lead us to have better energy.
While Sato’s goal scoring was a key factor in Sanfrecce’s title win in 2012, the former Vegalta Sendai and Cerezo Osaka forward is quick to credit his team-mates for the club’s success last year.
“I scored 22 goals but I don’t believe that I did it all by myself,” he says. “When I am scoring, the goalkeeper and the defenders win the ball and then the midfield brings the ball forward.
“My part is to move the ball quickly towards the goal and finalise the job as a striker. That’s all I’m doing. It is all because of my team-mates and I would like to show my appreciation to all of my team-mates.”
In addition to their defeat in the opening round of matches in the AFC Champions League, Sanfrecce kicked off the defence of their J.League title with a 2-1 loss against Urawa Reds – another 2013 AFC Champions League participant – on Saturday.
And Sato is under no illusions regarding the difficulty of the task that lies ahead for him and his team mates this season.
“I’m not expecting to win back-to-back titles in this competition,” he says. “It’s not that easy.
“But since we experienced winning the title, I do have a strong feeling of wanting to win it again. This season will be a harder one, but we will do our best in each game.”