Kashima Antlers showed how far Japanese soccer has come when they gave Real Madrid a mighty scare in the Club World Cup final last Sunday, but it may be some time before a J. League champion gets to take advantage of Japan hosting the tournament again.

Antlers pushed Madrid all the way to extra time before finally succumbing 4-2 in Yokohama, and the players’ post-match disappointment at not being able to beat the 11-time European champions — a feat that only two teams have managed this year — was a telling indicator of how close they came.

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