Club World Cup: Japan’s Antlers carry the fight for Asia

Antlers coach Masatada Ishii has called on the J-League title holder to ambush South American champions Atletico Nacional in the tournament’s first semifinal on Wednesday.

Atletico Nacional has already played more than 80 games this season but will start as favourite on Wednesday.   -  ap

Japan’s Kashima Antlers will look to spring a major upset by reaching the Club World Cup final — its aim to put Asian football on the map.

Antlers coach Masatada Ishii has called on the J-League title holder to ambush South American champion Atletico Nacional in the tournament’s first semifinal on Wednesday.

Barring a seismic upset, a potential dream final against Spanish giant Real Madrid in Yokohama awaits the winner.

"We are on a great run of form," he said Tuesday. "The players are a little fatigued but the target is to maintain our momentum and finish the season with two more victories.

"If we get the results we want people will say that Asia is closing the gap," added Ishii, whose team are bidding to become Asia’s first Club World Cup finalists.

"If we fail, people will continue to say Japan is still way behind Europe and South America. We’re fighting for Japanese football, which makes these two matches extremely important."

Kashima, who captured its eighth Japanese championship 10 days ago, squeezed past part-timers Auckland City 2-1 before beating South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns 2-0 to reach the semifinal.

But it will be facing sentimental favourite in Nacional, which was thrust into the public eye after its incidental part in the recent air tragedy which all but wiped out Brazilian rival Chapecoense.

Chape were en route to play the Colombians in the Copa Sudamericana final when its plane crashed into a hillside near Medellin.

"These past few weeks have no doubt been difficult," said Nacional coach Reinaldo Rueda, who led his side to a second Libertadores Cup in July.

"For us Chapecoense are like brothers," he added. "We have to give it everything for their memory because we’re a team, we are human beings. Chape had their dreams cruelly snatched away so it is our duty to reach the final."

The Medellin club, which was beaten by AC Milan in the tournament’s forerunner, the Intercontinental Cup, in 1989, has already played more than 80 games this season but will start as favourite on Wednesday.

"Kashima play attractive football and work well as a team," said Rueda. "They’re a dangerous team so we need to be careful."

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