Sugimoto eyeing title success with Cerezo
Osaka: Kenyu Sugimoto believes Cerezo Osaka can gain inspiration from Urawa Red Diamonds’ AFC Champions League victory last year as the side from Japan’s second city return to continental action for the first time since 2014.
After a third-place finish in the 2017 J.League, Cerezo secured their third appearance at the competition, where they reached the quarter-finals in 2011 and the Round of 16 three years later.
In 2017, domestic rivals Urawa became the first side from Japan to win the AFC Champions League since Cerezo’s neighbours Gamba Osaka claimed the title in 2008 and the forward feels his side can build on that success.
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“Since Urawa won the ACL last year, lots of people are paying attention to the Japanese teams,” said Sugimoto, who returned to Cerezo from Kawasaki Frontale in 2016 after earlier beginning his career at the club.
“For a long time, a Japanese team did not win the tournament so I think what Urawa did was give the other Japanese teams hope that one day they could do the same.
“First I think it’s important for us to focus on getting past the group stage but, of course, we want to be champions.”
Cerezo’s return to the competition sees them paired in Group G alongside two-time winners Guangzhou Evergrande of China, Korea Republic’s Jeju United and Thailand’s Buriram United, who they also shared a group with in 2014.
First up is a trip to Jeju, before the visit of Guangzhou, who eliminated Cerezo at the last 16 stage in 2014 after claiming a resounding 5-1 victory in Osaka.
Back-to-back fixtures against Buriram will then set Cerezo up for their final two group games and Sugimoto is acutely aware of the challenge his side face in order to progress to the knockout rounds.
“Guangzhou Evergrande have experienced players who have won in the past and I think they are definite contenders,” noted Sugimoto.
“They are a very strong team and have lots of top foreign talent so it is important for us to make sure we play our brand of football to overcome them.
“We have also played Buriram in the past and I remember the atmosphere in their stadium being fantastic.”
Cerezo go into the continental campaign on the back of arguably their most successful season ever, having won the Emperor’s Cup and the J.League Cup for the first time in their history.
Training match result— Cerezo Osaka (@crz_english) January 30, 2018
January 30 (Tue), 13:00 JST
Cerezo Osaka 4-2 National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya
Scorers (for Cerezo): Sugimoto (40'), Yamamura (116'), Yamauchi (127'), Yamada (113')#CerezoOsaka #SakuraSpectacle pic.twitter.com/e4U3SOVmTg
Sugimoto scored in the first minute of the J.League Cup final against his former club Kawasaki in a game that ended 2-0, while he also made his debut for the national team in 2017 as the 25-year-old enjoyed a memorable year.
The club have since added to their squad and will now aim to take their domestic form to the continent and maintain their record of having never failed to advance beyond the group stage.
“There have been a lot more attacking players that have joined but I think this will add new tactical combinations and more variety in our brand of football that will add goals,” said Sugimoto.
“Our midfield players are very fast on the wings and also can read the game very well. This will help with creating more chances.
“We have not added lots of defensive players but I think our new additions will add to our defensive philosophy.”
Photo: Cerezo Osaka