Sanfrecce Hiroshima

サンフレッチェ広島 / Sanfrecce Hiroshima


  • Best League Finish: 1st in the J1 League (3 times)
  • Best Emperor’s Cup Finish: Winners (3 times)
  • J1 League
    • Champions (3): 2012, 2013, 2015
  • Japan Soccer League
    • Champions (5): 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970
  • J2 League
    • Champions (1): 2008
  • Emperor’s Cup
    • Winners (3): 1965, 1967, 1969
  • J.League Cup
    • Winners (1): 2022
  • Japanese Super Cup
    • Winners (4): 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016
  • All Japan Works Football Championship
    • Winners (2): 1956, 1962
  • NHK Super Cup
    • Winners (1): 1967

Sanfrecce Hiroshima Football Club / サンフレッチェ広島 is a club that has been Japanese champions on eight occasions throughout its history, and currently plays in the J1 League, the top tier league in the Japanese football pyramid. They are based in the southern industrial and peaceful city of Hiroshima / 広島市 situated on Japan’s southwestern coast. It is the largest city in the Chūgoku region of western Honshu, with a population of approximately 1,2 million inhabitants. Sanfrecce Hiroshima currently plays its home games at the all-seater 36,894-capacity Hiroshima Big Arch / 広島ビッグアーチ, commonly known by its sponsored name Edion Stadium Hiroshima / エディオンスタジアム広島, which is located in the central ward of Asaminami-ku / 安佐南区. The stadium was opened in 1992 in time for that year’s Asian Cup, in which the host nation historically won its inaugural Asian Cup title by beating Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the final held at the Big Arch stadium. However, Sanfrecce’s stay at the Edion is set to end with the club moving to a brand-new stadium in the centre of the city, moving into the Hiroshima Peace Stadium in approximately 2024.

The club was founded in 1938 as the company team of the locally-based Toko Kogyo company, later to become the automotive giant Mazda. In 1965, they became one of the founding members of the Japan Soccer League (JSL), Japan’s first national football league. Toko Kogyo SC won the first four editions of the now-defunct semi-professional league between 1965 and 1968, and won five league titles in the first six seasons. They became the first Japanese side to achieve the ‘double’ when they also won their first Emperor’s Cup in 1965 (the first of their three cups during the late 1960s), and were the first Japanese club to compete in an Asian continental competition when they reached the semi-finals of the 1969 Asian Club Cup (the precursor to the AFC Champions League).

Although the club was unable to match the feats of the hugely successful 1960s side, it continued to compete in the JSL throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The team changed its name to Mazda Sports/Soccer Club in 1981, and flittered between the First and Second Divisions of the JSL throughout the decade. When the JSL was disbanded in 1992 and replaced with the professional J.League, the Mazda-owned side became one of its “Original Ten“. Alas, in keeping with the J.League’s requirement that owner/sponsor team names were no longer allowed, the club changed to its current Sanfrecce Hiroshima name. The unique prefix ‘Sanfrecce‘ is a portmanteau of the Japanese word for three (“san“) and the Italian word for arrows (“frecce“). It is based on the story of the local daimyō Mōri Motonari who told his three sons that while a single arrow might be easily snapped, three arrows held together would not be broken and urged them to work for the good of the clan and its retainers.

The 1993 J.League Combined Table
[IMAGE: Wikipedia]

Sanfrecce competed in the first ten seasons of the J.League Division 1, with their highest league placement being a runners-up finish in 1994, and reaching three Emperor’s Cup finals during the period but losing on every occasion. After suffering their first relegation in 2003, they spent just a season’s hiatus in J2 before returning back to the J1 for an uneventful four-season stint and then endured yet another Emperor’s Cup final defeat in 2007. Hiroshima bounced back in style following a second relegation by winning the 2008 J2 title and returning back to the top flight where they have competed since.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima experience their second ‘golden period’ in their history during the early 2010s when the club won three J.League titles in four seasons. Their first league title in forty-two years was achieved by clinching the 2012 J1 title after finishing seven points ahead of runners-up Vegalta Sendai, before successfully defending their title in the following season by ending just a single point ahead of Yokohama F. Marinos. After an eighth-place finish that meant they failed to achieve a third consecutive title, Sanfrecce clinched their third championship in 2015 after being Gamba Osaka 4-3 on aggregate at the end-of-season playoffs. That qualified them for that year’s FIFA Club World Cup that was being held in Japan, and the Viola finished in third place in the tournament by beating Guangzhou Evergrande 2-1 in the third-place playoff.

Since their 2015 J.League victory, they have been unable to add to their league tally. They managed a runners-up placement in 2018, and last season they finished in third place. Sanfrecce did pick up some silverware during the 2022 season by winning their first J.League Cup by beating Cerezo Osaka in the final, with Pieros Sotiriou scoring two goals in injury time to win the tie 2-1. Sadly, Sanfrecce were unable to create a cup-winning double after failing in the Emperor’s Cup final yet again. Making a record-making fifteenth final appearance, they ended up as finalists for an amazing twelfth time (and ninth consecutive Emperor’s Cup final defeat) when they suffered an agonising ‘cupset’ against J2 side Ventforet Kofu on penalties following a 1-1 draw.

To answer questions on the defending J.League Cup holders, the eight-time Japanese champions, and a side with astonishingly bad luck in the Emperor’s Cup, we interviewed the superb ConDrei from the excellent Sanfrecce Hiroshima EN Twitter account. Alongside with main admin, Sachiko, Sanfrecce Hiroshima EN is an unofficial English-language account that is run by supporters of the club and reports on all things happening with the purple-clad club. ConDrei also updates the Japanese football data, all the way down to the sixth-tier regional leagues, for the football data website Transfermarkt. Should you wish to find out more about ConDrei, Sachiko, and the Twitter account, the links to their social media accounts can be found below:

Q. Firstly, how did you start following and supporting Sanfrecce Hiroshima?

I started to get into Japanese football around 2011 after I had been to my first J.League game in 2008 watching Gamba Osaka. Therefore, when I invested time looking for information on the J.League, I had Gamba Osaka as my first team to follow.

Back then the situation was not very convenient. There were occasionally streams for some J1 and J2 games that were available to watch but they were only live. The time difference of 7 to 8 hours, depending on the time of year, also made it difficult to catch all the games from my home in Germany.

At that time Sanfrecce Hiroshima, under the management of the now-Japanese national team manager Hajime Moriyasu, won the 2012 and 2013 championships. The more I learned about the J. League and its history the more I was attracted by the team from Hiroshima. They had been mostly an underdog in recent years, and historically a corporate team under a local car manufacturer’s brand [Mazda], but was now one of the most successful teams of Japanese football.

When I travelled to Japan once again in 2014, I revisited some places from my initial trip in 2008 and attended a few games on my travels. Hiroshima city is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited, and the stadium experience was very welcoming when I made a trip there. Ultimately, the combination of the two set me on a course to follow Sanfrecce going forward.

Q. From your time following the club, who has been your favourite player, and the reasoning behind your choice?

Yoshifumi Kashiwa

My favourite player is Yoshifumi Kashiwa. He joined Sanfrecce Hiroshima from Ventforet Kofu in 2014 and, therefore, was a presence at the club since I got more invested in the team. He, and the Croatian winger Mihael Mikić [who played for Sanfrecce between 2009 and 2017, and is the current assistant manager at Slovenian club Maribor], were a pretty amazing duo and also contributed to the 2015 championship. Following Sanfrecce you get used to mostly a slow pace style of play which really helped Kashiwa to shine as he has often been a driving force behind Sanfrecce’s attacks.

Kashiwa still plays at the club today and despite his age (35 years old), in my opinion, he still has this important role as an initiating and creative attacker from the flank. He can still dribble well and occasionally is able to attempt a shot.

Q. Of the current squad, who would you say is the best player at the club and why?

Tsukasa Morishima

The best player overall I think is Tsukasa Morishima. Of course, there are differences within the different positions, but Morishima as an attacking midfielder under Michael Skibbe is one of the first players to press for the ball.

Despite his relatively young age (25 years old), he has matured over the last few years and today is already an integral part of the team, having scored a career-high of 11 goals last season, his highest goal tally since he joined the club in 2016.

Q. Who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent at the club?

Makoto Mitsuta

The most exciting and most talented player in my opinion is Makoto Mitsuta. Before joining university, he played with Sanfrecce’s youth team and was sent to the team as a ‘special designated player’ in 2021 before graduating in 2022 when he joined Sanfrecce officially.

He can play in most offensive positions but is best positioned as a second striker. Despite his young age (23 years old), I think he is already comfortable with a leading role in the team, looking for a good way to either serve his teammates with crossing passes or attempt to shoot himself.

Q. Who would you regard as Sanfrecce’s biggest or historical rivals?

The local baseball team Hiroshima Carp. My answer might sound unorthodox but please let me explain.

Despite the successful history of the predecessor Toyo Kogyo SC with multiple national titles in the first seasons of the corporate Japan Soccer League, and the three recent league titles under Hajime Moriyasu, Sanfrecce was not really capable to capitalize on that success and tradition. Hiroshima’s sports culture after WW2 has been heavily influenced by baseball, which today is still Japan’s most favourite sport. Hiroshima Carp, despite a more than mediocre success in the national baseball league NPB, is heavily sponsored by the local commerce, has a tremendous stadium within reach from Hiroshima station, and is present all over the city.

In the next few years, the club will move from the Edion Stadium, a multipurpose arena several kilometres away from the city centre, to a newly-built stadium near the central Hiroshima Castle. The stadium is being built right now and is supposedly meant to be finished in 2024. I would love to visit the arena in its inaugural season.

Regarding football, there was a time when Urawa Red Diamonds were maybe considered rivals as quite a bunch of former players either directly or indirectly moved to Saitama. But apart from that Sanfrecce Hiroshima is pretty unchallenged in the Chugoku region.

Additionally, I don’t think that local fans see there is much of a rivalry between Carp and Sanfrecce especially as more and more cooperation has started between both clubs. It’s mainly my outward observation to describe that issue as part of a rivalry towards capturing the attention of the local sports fan scene.

Q. What would you say has been the best game, result, or performance from your time following the club?

Following Sanfrecce over the years you were mostly shown more slow-paced football which makes the “best game” I have seen quite a recent event. The switch from Hiroshi Jofuku [manager of Sanfrecce from December 2017 to October 2021] to Skibbe has unleashed some more straightforward football tactics that the team occasionally appeared to be capable of previously but was hindered from showing throughout the games because of some cautious tactical decisions by Jofuku.

I would say the 4-1 win against Urawa Red Diamonds in 2022 was the best game I can actively remember seeing.

The best result, taking into account the situation the club was in and the more improved outcome that game produced, was the 3-2 win against Gamba Osaka on December 2, 2015. During this year, the league returned to the two-stage format that it historically started using in 1992. Yet with ACL qualification to deal with, the league organised a championship stage playoff consisting of three teams: the two-stage winners (Urawa Red Diamonds and Sanfrecce Hiroshima) and the best-performing team in the combined table that had not won either stage (Gamba Osaka). Sanfrecce gained a bye to the playoff final due to being the best-performing team overall over the two stages, with Urawa and Gamba playing a one-legged semi-final.

It was the latter side that progressed to the final to face Sanfrecce, and they initially dominated the first leg of the playoff final. In the 81st minute, Gamba club legend Yasuyuki Konno scored the possible winning goal for that match with the scoreline at 2-0. In the 86th minute, Gamba’s Oh Jae-suk was red-carded for what was thought to be violent conduct which totally flipped the game. In the first minute of injury time, we equalised through Sho Sasaki, and then in the 90+6 minute, Kashiwa scored the winning goal to make the result 3-2. Even though it was only the first leg of the final, a 1-1 result in the second leg meant the title would have gone to Gamba Osaka without those injury-time goals.

Over the years, mostly through my volunteer work on Transfermarkt‘s database, I was overloaded by exciting stories of Japanese football, so I can not really remember a lot of great performances. Yet I know that Takuma Asano and Hisato Sato were a very capable duo up front. If it wasn’t for Asano’s tendency to be offside more often than not, he could’ve scored so many great goals for Sanfrecce.

Q. What do you think of the situation in Japanese league football currently? Are there any improvements you would like to see happen?

Despite the group stage win in the 2022 FIFA World Cup that nobody expected, I think there is still some work to do for the Japanese game. If you know about the J.League you might have heard about the 100-year vision, where the JFA wants to create 100 professional clubs in Japan by the 100th-year anniversary of the J.League in 2092. As I am pretty sure that I won’t see that historical season, but I am sure the goal to have 100 pro clubs established will be achieved much earlier.

Digging down the pyramid, there are many ambitious clubs that are trying to get the J.League status in the near future yet it appears that with 60 clubs in total currently, the J.League will shut down a continuous league growth for now. This will mean some former pro clubs might get relegated to the amateur level.

Additionally, you hear of plans to redistribute money to the top clubs and cut funding from lower league clubs that often struggle financially anyway.

Therefore, off the top of my head, I would change these three things:

  1. Do NOT redistribute money to the top clubs. I think one of the most interesting things about the J.League is the fact you can’t predict anything. In Germany, as in many other European leagues, the championship is already predetermined so UEFA has to invent more competitions that even the mid-table clubs have something to play for. As the AFC Champions League does not provide a monetary benefit to Japanese clubs, raising the prize money for the top clubs gives more incentives to prioritize the domestic cup even more. Japanese clubs have the tendency to let B or C squads play internationally so the domestic goals are still achievable.
  2. Regionalise the lower leagues. Right now the first to fourth tier leagues are nationwide and organised in a single, standardised format. This means that even amateur clubs competing in the fourth tier need to travel throughout the whole country from Hokkaido to Okinawa. This creates a difficult financial burden for both teams and supporters. Regionalising the third and fourth tiers will actually lower travel costs for teams and actually improve local rivalries to engage fan support.
    As the J.League shifts from an 18-22-20 format to the 20-20-20 format for J1-J2-J3 next season, my idea would be to have 40 teams in the J1 and J2 (18-22 or 20-20) and have the J3 and JFL (“J4”) into three divisions: Northern, Central and Southern. This way you can promote semi-pro teams from the fifth and sixth tiers more easily into the JFL and streamline promotion from JFL to J3. Also, you could at one point in the future have up to 60 teams in the J3 League divisions and have all 100 pro clubs in the J.League pyramid.
  3. The promotion from the fifth to the fourth tier is a chokepoint for many ambitious teams whose funding is limited. Below the nationwide JFL at the fourth tier, there are nine regional league winners, who compete for only two spots to be promoted. As nine is not enough to have a competition there are three additional teams that qualify through an amateur cup, which adds up to a total of twelve teams for two spots. I would either expand the number of relegation spots in the JFL to four places and then have four teams from the Regional League Champions League promoted, or go with my second point and split the league into three “superregional leagues”.

Additionally, if the J.League could have a streaming service similar to the one that the K League has started in 2022, that would be awesome as international fans could just watch all the games they are interested in (which probably then gives good information on what teams are more popular abroad).

Q. How would you describe the current performance or state of the club? How do you think this past season has gone?

The 2022 J.League Division 1 table.
[IMAGE: Wikipedia]

Tremendously well actually. As described previously, in recent years Sanfrecce had the tendency to slow down every attacking phase of play and routinely relied on a single striker who was continuously fed with cross balls. When the flanks had been closed down meanwhile, they returned to a slow buildup which ultimately didn’t lead anywhere. Technically the players had been capable, and there was plenty of talent available, but it needed to be unleashed by a different tactical option.

Michael Skibbe

Michael Skibbe, who in my opinion is not really one of the great managers of our time, has had an instant impact on how the team presented itself. There was a sudden tendency towards fast-paced attacking football, adopting an early “Gegenpressing” approach that helped to team to become (if I remember correctly) one if not the most attacking sides of the league instantly. This occurred in spite of not having much improvement on the forward position which was overdue with the pre-Skibbe team.

For the 2023 season, Sanfrecce is thought to be a title contender for many on the #jpred2023 prediction game which, on the one hand, shows how much the team impressed in 2022, yet appreciates that nothing is guaranteed in the J.League nowadays.

Overall, I am very much looking forward to seeing Sanfrecce compete this season and hope to plan a trip to their new stadium in 2024!

Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the club?

The best thing is probably that you can mostly get available matchday tickets if you happen to be in Hiroshima on any day. The matches are rarely sold out which, as a negative consequence, also hinders the atmosphere in the stadium. As far as I can tell, the ultra culture is limited to just the Hiroshima Ursus supporter group yet they still do a tremendous job with their support in the old Edion Stadium.

Also, you have something to look forward to as the potential new stadium in Hiroshima city can actually shift things for the better of the club. Sanfrecce appears to have one of the better youth development programs and recently said they want to focus on giving young talent a place to develop themselves in Hiroshima. Therefore, you can be confident in seeing exciting new players joining the first team every other season.

Apart from the lack of many sold-out matches, for a long period of time, you had to endure more boring football being played. As I said previously, the switch to Michael Skibbe really brought some life back to the team but management appears to not really initiate some changes when – from my personal perspective – issues are obvious. Sanfrecce Hiroshima is probably one of the lesser-funded clubs in Japan. Financial restrictions, of course, make it difficult to invest but then again the great youth programme the team has should lead to more game time for youngsters. In the past this was not really a big concern for the team as ‘oldies’ (some of them ‘goldies’ indeed) were fielded whenever possible.

But despite everything, I can enjoy the club for what it is in good and bad times.

Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of Sanfrecce Hiroshima?

The new stadium in the city centre will hopefully bring the club closer to the Hiroshiman people’s minds and hearts so they will come to enjoy the atmosphere on match days and even enjoy the beautiful park area in front of the arena.

I could only wish for Michael Skibbe, if he happens to leave the club at the end of the season, to lay a foundation that will be continued afterwards by his successor, by playing a more aggressive attacking style of football and not just relying on your defence, which is one of the best in the league.

I want the club to bring in as many youth talents as it can, maybe with hopes to develop them and then sell a few of them to bigger domestic clubs, or even to European clubs, and therefore bring some more exciting players to Hiroshima.

In my opinion, Sanfrecce is the perfect club for the city and prefecture of Hiroshima: An underdog club which does not talk too much but delivers almost every given week for the fans. Let the other clubs shine in mediocrity but, after all, Sanfrecce will be capable to compete with the best. That’s my humble opinion following the club from afar anyway.

A massive thank you to ConDrei from the excellent Sanfrecce Hiroshima EN Twitter account for answering our questions on the J.League 1 side Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Remember you can find their social media accounts in the links towards the top of the blogpage.

If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at or send a message to @The94thMin on Twitter.


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