Sanfrecce Hiroshima wrapped up the 2015 J.League title on Saturday, and after the game I gathered some reaction on the achievement and the team’s new star striker, Takuma Asano…
HIROSHIMA — Takuma Asano wrote his name in Sanfrecce Hiroshima folklore as the Purple Archers claimed a third J.League title in four years on Saturday, and Mihael Mikic believes the 21-year-old is just getting started on a career that could reach the very top.
Forward Asano came off the bench to head home the vital equalizer in the 1-1 draw that secured Sanfrecce a 4-3 aggregate win over Gamba Osaka in second leg of the J1 Championship final, leading to a glowing assessment from his veteran teammate.
“He has potential — I think no limit,” the Croatian said postmatch. “He’s so young, and the time for Takuma is coming. He can be one of the best players Japan has had in their history.”
Fellow striker Douglas, who was Sanfrecce’s top scorer during the regular season with 21 goals, is another with high hopes for Asano, and is eager for him to capitalize upon his ability.
“He’s helped us out in many games, but he’s still young and shouldn’t just be satisfied with what he’s done — keep aiming higher,” the Brazilian told The Japan News. “He’s an outstanding prospect and I’m very excited about his future.”
His manager, Hajime Moriyasu, was similarly glowing in his appraisal.
“Whenever he plays he acts as a switch to give us energy, and hopefully the fact that he has scored the decisive goal to deliver us the title on such a big stage will only serve to help him improve even more,” he said.
Blessed with searing pace and a fearlessness when faced with bigger, more seasoned opponents, Asano often caused defenders headaches throughout the season when, as on Saturday night at a sold-out Edion Stadium, introduced in place of J1’s joint all-time top goalscorer Hisato Sato — and his arrival against Gamba instantly changed the complexion of the match.
“I have confidence in my jumping ability when it comes to challenging taller opponents,” the 1.71-meter forward said.
“I think I was able to make the most of my strong points. When I came on, the opposition was tiring. My teammates performed well before that to create a situation where it was easy for me to play. Once I came on, we played in a way that suits my style.”
Sanfrecce earned its place in the final courtesy of finishing with the most combined points (74) over the two-stage season — a full 11 ahead of Gamba, which finished third overall and defeated second-placed Urawa Reds in the semifinal.
Sanfrecce’s points tally was the highest in J1 since the 34-game, 18-team format was introduced in 2005, and its stats left no doubt as to the best team over the past nine months.
“We got the most points of a champion ever and also won the second stage,” Moriyasu said.
“We scored the most goals over the course of the season and conceded the fewest, so came into the Championship with confidence and determined to win the title. If we had lost today it wouldn’t have done justice to our efforts, so in all honesty I’m relieved.”
Mikic also paid reference to his team’s superiority, but admitted there had been some anxiety as the title moved tantalizingly within reach.
“Today in the first half everybody was too nervous, I think,” the 35-year-old said. “Our legs were so heavy because we had it in our heads that if we lose today then we lose everything that we made all year.
“That was maybe too much pressure on our backs, but at halftime we spoke a bit and decided we must play better and must take more risks — we decided to play with more emotion and more power.”
Asano’s cameo after entering the fray in the 57th minute epitomized that switch in mentality, and he will now get a chance to demonstrate his ability to a wider audience on Thursday when Sanfrecce — as host nation representatives — get their Club World Cup campaign under way against Auckland City in Yokohama.