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“The chance to win the J.League and take part in a global competition comes along very rarely,” Aoyama told FIFA.com. “Although it’s been hard to stay in top condition after a long season, we’re motivated to do well here.”
For Aoyama, who was one of five Hiroshima players named in the J.League’s Best XI for 2012, the thrill of playing in the global club showpiece became real when he strode out of the tunnel at Yokohama International Stadium.
“When I walked onto the field while the FIFA anthem was playing, I thought to myself, ‘This is something I’ve only seen on TV before,’” Aoyama said. “Stepping on to the grass while that music was playing made me realise that I’m taking part in an international competition. I’m proud to be representing Japan, and that drove me on during the game.”
Sanfrecce employed the same 3-4-2-1 formation that led the free-flowing side to its maiden J.League crown. Forward Hisato Sato, the 2012 J.League MVP, and defender Ryota Moriwaki both created decent chances, while Aoyama and veteran Kazuyuki Morisaki pulled the strings adeptly in midfield.
When I walked onto the field while the FIFA anthem was playing, I thought to myself, ‘This is something I’ve only seen on TV before.
Hiroshima's Aoyama on the CWC opener with Auckland City
The Hiroshima outfit controlled the first half, and forced Auckland to live off scraps of possession. “Sanfrecce are a fantastic team,” said Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx after the game. “It was really tough getting the ball off them.”
Despite their dominance, Hiroshima were struggling to crack the defence of the New Zealand club, who were making their fourth appearance at a FIFA Club World Cup. Patience was the key, however, and eventually a breakthrough did come for Hajime Moriyasu’s determined charges.
The decisive moment came in the 66th minute, when Aoyama received the ball about 25 yards from goal before unleashing a powerful strike that honed in on the top corner. The 26-year-old seemed as surprised as anyone when he broke the deadlock.
“Although we didn’t score in the first half, Auckland hadn’t really threatened our goal either,” said Aoyama, who joined Sanfrecce straight out of secondary school. “We had dominated the game and kept our composure. We knew that if we retained possession, a goal would come. I only scored twice in the J.League this season, but I guess the stars were aligned for me to score such a wonderful goal on this special stage. Even I was surprised to score such a good goal.”
Making the moment even more special, this was the 200th goal scored at FIFA Club World Cups, which is in its ninth edition. “Wow, 200?” Aoyama said when told of this fact. “I really want that matchball now!”
While the Purple Archers are embracing the responsibility that comes with being the host nation’s representatives, they also are enjoying the moment and are determined to at least finish in third spot – which would match the best result of a Japanese team at a FIFA Club World Cup. To do so, they will have to get past African champions Al-Ahly in the quarter-finals on Sunday.
“We’re having so much fun,” Aoyama said. “Winning one game brings us one step closer to being the best club in the world. It’s really invigorating to have the chance to become the top club. As a footballer, this is why I play the game. I’m just so happy. The next game is even more important, so I’ll keep playing as hard as I can.”