- Associated Press - Monday, December 14, 2015

OSAKA, Japan (AP) - Sanfrecce Hiroshima faces its biggest challenge of the Club World Cup when the Japanese champions meet River Plate in the semifinals on Wednesday.

Hiroshima, which wasn’t expected to win the J-League title this season, has overcome several key injuries to win two matches in the tournament so far.

Hajime Moriyasu’s men beat Auckland City 2-0 in the tournament opener on Thursday before a dominant 3-0 victory over African champion TP Mazembe on Sunday.

Hiroshima is bidding to become the first Japanese team to reach the final of the tournament, but Moriyasu knows the Copa Libertadores winners will be a much tougher test than the previous two opponents.

“They are a world-class team,” Moriyasu said after Monday’s practice. “From a coach’s perspective, I know they will be difficult to face. But we entered this tournament as challengers and will continue to take that approach. We just need to prepare as best as possible.”

The Club World Cup carries more weight in South America than it does elsewhere.

“Since we won the Libertadores lots of people have been telling me that it doesn’t matter if we win the league or the Copa Sudamericana; what they really want is the Club World Cup,” River Plate’s Leonel Vangioni said after arriving in Japan.

Hiroshima goalkeeper Takuto Hayashi said he will have to be at his best against the South American champion.

“As a goalkeeper it will be a challenge like one I’ve never had before,” Hayashi said. “It’s not an experience you get every day. There will be a special atmosphere and it will be completely different from a regular league game.”

Barcelona arrived in Japan on Monday. The European champion will play Luis Felipe Scolari’s Guangzhou Evergrande in the other semifinal on Dec. 17 in Yokohama. Guangzhou beat Mexico’s Club America 2-1 on Sunday to set up a showdown with the tournament favorite, which is bidding for a third Club World Cup title.

The tournament, which features the top clubs from FIFA’s six continental confederations plus the champion of the host country, returns to Japan for the first time since 2012. It was hosted in Morocco the previous two years.

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