Sanfrecce Hiroshima have experienced their fair share of good luck this season – perhaps even more than – and I think I may have had a hand in turning the winds of fate in the favour of their three arrows…
There are still six games to go but, even bearing in mind the unpredictability and inconsistency of the J.League, it is looking like one of three teams will be crowned champions.
And if I was a betting man – and regular readers will know that, due to form, I’m not – that number could probably be whittled down to just two with Urawa having shown anything but title-winning form of late, losing their last two home games against sides in the relegation zone.
That leaves just Vegalta Sendai and Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and if the latter are to emerge victorious I can’t help but feel that I have to take some of the credit.
Ok, that might be pushing it a bit far, but it increasingly feels like something, somewhere is spurring them on, and it may very well have stemmed from a conversation I had with Tadanari Lee at the end of last season.
We were discussing the phenomenal success of Lee’s former club Kashiwa Reysol in becoming J2 and J1 champions in consecutive seasons and also touched upon the fact that the club where he started his career, FC Tokyo, had just won J2.
I suggested that his departure from clubs seemed to pre-empt success in the league and proposed that if he really wanted Sanfrecce to be crowned champions he knew what he had to do.
“All my old teams win the league,” he laughed. “Ok, I’ll leave, then. But it’s your fault.”
So there you have it.
Fate has certainly seemed to be on Sanfrecce’s side of late, whether it be in the form of Kazuyuki Morisaki’s deflected opener in the crunch game against Vegalta Sendai, Ryota Moriwaki’s improbably arcing last minute headed winner against Nagoya Grampus, or Yuji Ono’s shanked penalty for Marinos last weekend – which is reportedly still rising somewhere over the Den-en-toshi line.
Mihael Mikic, who had fouled the young striker to concede that spot-kick, paid reference to the importance of good fortune in the run in.
“It was a penalty but we must have luck if we want to be champions, of course,” he said.
He also suggested, when asked what he was thinking when the referee pointed at the spot, that there may have been a little divine intervention.
“I said “Please God, help me today” and he helped me.”
Yojiro Takahagi was of a similar mind after the win over Vegalta, but added that the team could still not rest on their laurels.
“I think that “lucky goals” like [Kazu’s] are sometimes necessary to win, and the team must be able to make the most of such luck to play at a higher level and win the title,” he said.
Mikic, too, knows that the side must give everything on the final straight to make sure of their first J1 title, but is convinced they have the quality to do so.
“We have [in defensive midfield] two very, very good players – Kazu and Ao. That is very important. Also we have a striker with experience, Hisa, who [has] scored 20 goals. Also I play on the right side and I have experience with Dinamo Zagreb to win many titles. [This] is a new challenge but I think we are in a good [condition].”
As well as believing the team has the ability to claim its maiden championship – and the blessing of a higher power – the Croatian wide-man referred to an extra motivation for the Purple Archers.
“When the season started everybody said, “Sanfrecce may be fighting to stay in J1” – all the experts said that,” he said with a satisfied grin. “We have this inside us so we say “ok, we want to prove these experts wrong.” They made a mistake. Now we are working very, very well.”
And that, as well as my prophetic conversation with Lee – now of Southampton – may be exactly what carries Sanfrecce over the finish line in first place.
“If you don’t work hard and give 100% in every training then you don’t have the luck,” Mikic concluded. “If you are not fair to your job then you also don’t have luck. But everybody is working so hard and we have such good guys in this team. And something this year is behind us.”