SUITA, OSAKA PREF. – Club World Cup debutants Kashima Antlers advanced to the semifinals with a gritty 2-0 victory over African champions Mamelodi Sundowns on Sunday.
Substitute Mu Kanazaki struck again in the closing minutes, after Yasushi Endo had opened the scoring midway through the second half for the J. League champions, who will face Copa Libertadores winners Atletico Nacional in Wednesday’s semifinal at Suita Stadium.
In the other quarterfinal Sunday, Silvio Romero bagged a brace as Club America came from behind to defeat Asian champions Jeonbuk Hyundai 2-1. America, the champions of the North, Central and Caribbean confederation, will play European champions Real Madrid on Thursday in Yokohama.
“We were a little taken back by their pace in the first half,” Kashima manager Masatada Ishii said. “What I told the boys is to move the ball at a good tempo because we were losing possession, which set them up for the counterattack. So first and foremost, we had to find our rhythm.”
“The South American clubs are clever and also skillful,” Ishii said of Atletico. “We need to deliver a consistent performance.”
Sundowns proved to be a far tougher test than Antlers’ first opponents at the tournament, Auckland City, as the South Africans bossed Ishii’s men in the opening half.
Kashima could have been staring at a sizeable halftime deficit had it not been for goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata, who showed cat-like reflexes in making a series of saves to frustrate Mamelodi.
Sundowns had their biggest opportunity of the half in the 31st minute, when Khama Billiat found himself completely free on the break. But the Zimbabwean striker shot high over the bar from the edge of the six-yard box, a miss the visitors would later rue.
Four minutes later, Samuel Mabunda pulled the trigger from 25 meters out but Sogahata was there again for the denial, the 37-year-old flying to his right to parry away the effort.
With Sundowns showing signs of fatigue and slowing, Sogahata’s heroics allowed Kashima to contest more in the second half.
In the 63rd minute, Shoma Doi set up Endo by heading down Shuhei Akasaki’s rightwing cross for the far post. With the ball nodded right into his path, Endo had it easy, netting off goalkeeper Denis Onyango from the center of the penalty area.
Playing to the advantage, Antlers controlled the game the rest of the way, Kanazaki sealing the Ibaraki club’s place in the final four with a goal two minutes from time.
“I’m glad we have an opportunity to play again,” said Kanazaki, who came on in the 61st minute. “We had to persevere a lot in the first half, but it paid off after halftime.”
Earlier, former J. League midfielder Kim Bo-kyung scored in the first half for Jeonbuk, but Romero struck twice on the other side of halftime for America, which exorcised its demons from last year’s quarterfinal defeat to Guangzhou Evergrande.
America came off the blocks roaring, trying to seize the lead early, but it was Jeonbuk which went ahead on the counter in the 23rd minute through Kim, who slotted home from a low Park Won-jae cross.
Kim, who once called Osaka home playing with Cerezo from 2010-12, nearly scored a second after 38 minutes, firing centimeters wide of the right-hand post following a slide-rule pass by Edu.
In the second half, Romero, who had hit the bar with a solo effort before the break, evened the score for America with a 58th-minute header that went over off the hands of Hong Jung-nam.
Jeonbuk was unlucky to give away the lead at the 74th-minute mark, when Romero’s volley from a leftwing corner deflected off Kim Shin-wook, bouncing inside the far post.
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