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Moving Football: Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Two years ago, when Sanfrecce Hiroshima fell to J2, newly signed coach Ono set a target to "become a championship contender within 3 years." 2005 is that third year, and Hiroshima have shown that with a clear understanding of the advantages you have, you can build up a solid team. One of the main problems they have faced is a location-disadvantage when it comes to trying to acquire players who are at the prime of their game. When a player like this considers his offers, inevitably the issue of re-locating or family obligations/wishes or life-style/standard of living play a part in the decision. Hiroshima is a bit of a leap for many, and if a player in his mid to late twenties gets similar offers from teams closer to their current home Sanfrecce doesn't look so inviting. (Note pic of Sanfrecce Taxis, cute huh?)

So for Sanfrecce, their tactics have been to focus on the Argentina World Youth Generation -- a group that Ono coached. This generation refers to players who are about 24 years old this year. This makes sense, as they already have four players from this group -- the Morisaki twins Koji and Kazu (left pic), right sideback Komano, and gk Ueno. By having this base 'brand', it was easier to attract same-generation players who might look at these four and think "I want to play with those guys." (Some of the now more well-known members from the final roster for this 2001 World Youth tournament include FC Tokyo's Ishikawa and Moniwa, Jubilo's Maeda, Antlers' Aoki, and Marinos' Nasu and Yamase.) As a result, Sanfrecce were able to attract three more from this group -- Sato, who was J2 Sendai's ace (check tomorrow's entry for article on Sato), S-Pulse's Ikeda, and Reysol's Shigehara. Two of the now-youth players at Sanfrecce, Takayanagi and Maeda, had been selected for the U-20 roster that played U-20 Cameroon yesterday (Japan won 1-0) in preparation for the World Youth Tournament in the Netherlands this summer. Takayanagi got his first starting position this year in the game against Chiba, and showed that he can ambitiously dribble the ball in as well as take powerful shots.

With new addition Dininho in defense, Beto in mf, and Galvao (right pic) in front, Sanfrecce have lined up a solid trio of dependable foreign players as well. From what I've seen so far, Dininho is very stable as a centerback and Galvao has been responding to the way the midfield uses him with great presence of mind. He has shown that he can go one-on-one, respond by running for long ball feeds from the back, and most of all is strong in the air as post.

Everyone loves twins, and in Sanfrecce it is no different. The Morisaki brothers came out of Sanfrecce Youth and have given the team its "face(s)". Kazu has been given captaining responsibilities and Koji is more the team spirit. Last year, Koji (left pic) was called to the U-23 team for the Athens Olympics. However upon his return it was diagnosed that he had a form of "over-training syndrome" and had a long struggle with insomnia and fatigue. In the pre-season, some trouble in his right leg fed his fear of injury, and as a result his play lost its dynamic quality -- he lost his starting position by the time the season started. But in the game against Albirex, Koji returned to the pitch and showed he was returning to his form - a good thing, as he is has been the top goal-getter for the team for two years running.

I've noted this before during my game recaps, but Komano (pic here with new wife Emiko) has been throwing up some really quality crosses this season -- the fast balls are especially good. He has a strong physical and an air of nose-to-the-grindstone seriousness. It gives him an overall aura of solidity, making him stand out among his peers who tend to give off a more youthful spirited air. But I like Komano the way he is -- sturdy and ready for the battle.

If you like watching a team with a "youth" base but prefer more stability than a team like FC Tokyo, this is probably the best team to watch. Coach Ono's philosophy of Moving Football (where both ball and players constantly move) has found its groove this year. From training camp, the team has shown a solid understanding of the plan and their respective responsibilities. The team play is mostly characterized by active pressing, very stable defense, and simple counter-attack. However, this season being a little weird, with some of the strong teams unable to find their footing, we've seen Sanfrecce play a little more offensively than I had predicted. For instance, the last round game against Champions Yokohama Marinos was a Sanfrecce attack-a-thon; unfortunately, they were unable to find a goal and were instead countered by Marinos for a 0-1 loss. They have put up some good fights though -- the game against FCTokyo in the heavy rain was an exciting matchup (though the score was 0-0) between two youth-ish teams playing 4-back formations but with such different styles; their 5-0 win over Albirex was also their 100th Home win in the J1. Their strength has first been the organization and stability of the defensive responsibilities. The second has been the successful integration of new forward Galvao. The third has been the leadership of the '01 Youth players -- the next step for some of these team leaders is to get a feel for knowing how to control and read the game better.

I don't know if it's some sort of strange coincidence, but this year the 18 J1 teams are split down the middle with regard to formation -- 9 teams use mainly a 4-back, and the other 9 use a 3-back. What's more, I don't know if this is another coincidence, but the top four teams in the rankings right now use a 4-back formation (Antlers, Grampus, Ardija, and Sanfrecce). Sanfrecce are currently in 3rd place.


[taxi photo from daiichi-taxi.com, profile photos from sanfrecce.co.jp, and Komano photo from Nikkan Sports newspaper]
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