Cerezo Osaka keen to go all the way in ACL return

Kenyu Sugimoto sees no reason why Cerezo Osaka cannot win the AFC Champions League as they prepare for their first appearance since 2014.

After a successful 2017 saw them win both the Emperor’s Cup and J.League Cup and finish third in the J1 League, Cerezo are currently about to compete in Asia’s premier club competition for only the third time in their history.

On both their previous appearances – in 2011 and 2014 – they managed to advance to the knockout round, but this year will be especially tough given they will be competing against Guangzhou Evergrande, Jeju United and Buriram United in Group G.

Nonetheless, having seen fellow Japanese club Urawa Red Diamonds go on to win it last year, Cerezo striker Sugimoto believes there is every chance they can do something similar in 2018.

“Since Urawa won the ACL last year, lots of people are paying attention to the Japanese teams,” said the 25-year-old, according to the AFC’s official website.

“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 previously met both Buriram and Evergrande in 2014, managing a win and a draw against the former in the group stage before losing 5-1 on aggregate to the latter in the Round of 16.

And Sugimoto is aware that he and his team-mates can ill afford to get complacent when their campaign kicks off on February 14.

“Guangzhou Evergrande have experienced players who have won [the tournament] in the past and I think they are definite contenders,” added the Japan international.

“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.”