Kashima not taking Auckland lightly ahead of Club World Cup opener

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Kashima Antlers coach Masatada Ishii will resist the urge to rest some of his key players when the newly crowned J. League champions take on New Zealand amateurs Auckland City in the opening game of the Club World Cup on Thursday.

Antlers face Auckland, in what will be the 100th game of the Club World Cup, only five days after collecting their eighth J. League title with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Urawa Reds in the second leg of the J. League Championship final.

“Of course I need to pay attention to the condition of the players, but right now I am thinking of going with the usual group,” Ishii said on the eve of the match at Nissan Stadium.

Kashima is making its Club World Cup debut and with so little time to prepare, Ishii said he sought advice from Sanfrecce Hiroshima coach Hajime Moriyasu, who guided his team to a third-place finish in last year’s tournament.

“We will be playing in this tournament for the first time in the history of our club and how we play . . . everything is new to us,” said Ishii.

“However last year, Hiroshima played so I contacted Mr. Moriyasu the other day to ask him how they played and how he coached and paid attention to the condition of the players to make sure they were good.

“There is not much I have to do in this short interval but our players need to switch their mindset and focus again. That is something they need to do.

“I trust that our players are focused, and will think in the time we have leading up to the game about the best message I can give them.”

Oceania champion Auckland is making a record eighth appearance at the Club World Cup.

“We have never played Auckland so we have to be even more focused at the beginning of the match,” said Kashima midfielder Gaku Shibasaki. “I respect our opponents but we should not respect them too much and we should play our own game.

“I was a bit euphoric on the day we gained the right to play in this tournament and the day after, but I knew there was another match in a few days’ time and needed to keep my feet on the ground.

“The players have refocused because we know if we don’t, we won’t be able to win.”

Striker Mu Kanazaki played a pivotal role in helping Kashima to the J. League title, scoring in the 1-0 semifinal win over Kawasaki Frontale before hitting a brace in the second leg of the final that Kashima won on the away goals rule after a 2-2 aggregate draw.

“He is a key player up front and I have high expectations of him but we cannot only rely on him to win,” Ishii said of Kanazaki, who threw a fit when he was substituted during a league game in August, a tantrum that led to him being dropped from the national team by Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic.

Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx was in the stands at Saitama Stadium on Saturday night, and gave a colorful assessment of Kanazaki.

“We have watched plenty of footage (of Kashima) and trust me, we know they are a physical team. They have got Kanazaki up front who can be, with respect, a pain in the ass to any team in world and doesn’t stop running,” said the Spaniard.

“We have done a lot of work and need to understand exactly how Kashima are going to try and hit us with the ball. They are very direct and maybe they have some similarities to the style of football we have to face in New Zealand.

“I feel we are prepared physically, tactically and mentally for the challenge. We understand how tough it is going to be. If we don’t feel the butterflies and don’t feel that we have got a slight chance we had better stay at home.

“We are keeping our heads high and if we give the best performance we can, then you never know.”

Hiroshima (twice) and Kashiwa Reysol have beaten Auckland in the opening game of this tournament in recent years.

“That puts a bit of pressure on us to beat them and it would not look good if we lost. We have to respect them and prepare to deal with their size and do our best to make sure we get past them,” said Kashima defender Gen Shoji.

The winner of Thursday’s match will face African champion Mamelodi Sundowns in Osaka on Sunday.

Kashima striker Yuma Suzuki is dreaming of a place in the final against European champion Real Madrid, which joins the competition from the semifinals on Dec. 15.

“I am a Real Madrid fan so for me personally, I would love to get the chance to play against them in the final,” Suzuki said.