The waiting game is finally over for River Plate, who will defend the honour of South American football in Wednesday’s FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2015 semi-final against Sanfrecce Hiroshima, having spent the 19 last years biding their time for just such an opportunity.
Last victorious in the Copa Libertadores in 1996, the Argentinians have made two prior appearances on the global stage, both in the Intercontinental Cup, while their Japanese opponents boast valuable Club World Cup experience, having represented the host nation back in 2012.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima-CA River Plate, Osaka Nagai Stadium, Wednesday 16 December, 19.30 (local time)
It has been quite a month already for Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who kicked off their December by winning the J.League and qualifying in the process for the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2015. After opening up with a 2-0 defeat of Auckland City, Sanfrecce cruised to a 3-0 quarter-final win over TP Mazembe Englebert three days later and now stand on the verge of the final, where global giants Barcelona could well be waiting for them should they emerge victorious on Wednesday. With a squad made up entirely of Japanese players, with the exception of the Brazilian Douglas and the Croatian Mihael Mikic, Sanfrecce will have the whole country behind them, thanks to their crowd-pleasing and enterprising brand of football, which does not come at the expense of defensive solidity. With five goals for and none against at Japan 2015, the home favourites are brimming with confidence.
While Sanfrecce have enjoyed a prolific month so far, River’s year has been nothing short of spectacular. Under the guidance of Marcelo Gallardo, Los Millonarios have claimed the Copa Libertadores, the Recopa Sudamericana, the Supercopa Euroamericana, the Argentinian Copa de Oro and the Suruga Bank Championship. That last trophy, contested by the winners of the previous year’s Copa Sudamericana and J-League, saw River overcome Gamba Osaka 3-0, a result that the Argentinians will view as a favourable omen ahead of Wednesday’s semi. Though tipped as favourites, the Argentinians have nevertheless been in indifferent form of late and will also have to contend with unfamiliar conditions and the after-effects of their long journey.
3 - the number of players in the current River Plate squad who have appeared in a FIFA Club World Cup final, all without success. Jonathan Maidana and Nicolas Bertolo featured in the Boca Juniors side that fell to AC Milan in 2007, while Javier Saviola tasted defeat with Barcelona against Internacional the previous year. River coach Marcelo Gallardo fared no better when running out for River in the 1996 Intercontinental Cup, a match they lost to Juventus.
“We’ve played a lot of matches in a short space of time and my players have always responded brilliantly in difficult situations. We’ll be organised, tenacious and patient. That’s the way we play and that’s the way we can win.” Sanfrecce Hiroshima coach Hajime Moriyasu
“Sanfrecce play good football. They have a lot of skill and they defend and attack as a team. They always try to play and they’ll make tough opponents for us.” River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo