Wednesday’s FIFA Club World Cup semi-final will have a sense of déjà vu when Kashima Antlers and Real Madrid go head to head in Abu Dhabi. The AFC Champions League winners met European kings Los Blancos just two years ago in the Japan 2016 final.
Then the host team, Kashima raced to the final against the odds before putting Real Madrid under pressure in the tournament decider when they took a 2-1 lead thanks to Gaku Shibasaki’s brace, with the game eventually going to extra time.
It took a stunning Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick in Yokohama to guarantee the Club World Cup title for Real Madrid who went onto win the showpiece 4-2. The two sides now go head to head again, this time in UAE, after Kashima recorded a win over Chivas to advance to the final four.
“Real Madrid are footballing giants, they’re an amazing club,” Kashima’s No8 Shoma Doi told a FIFA reporter in the corridors of Al Ain’s Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium after his side’s victory. “Their achievements in the past show just how big the club is. We’re obviously challengers against them and we’ll be going into that game challenging for a giant-killing.
“We’re delighted to play against them again. We want to surprise them and we’ll be at our best.”
Shoma picked up the Alibaba Cloud Match Award in his side’s 3-2 win over Chivas. A goal down after three minutes, Kashima showed character to fight back with three second-half goals from Ryota Nagaki, Serginho and Hiroki Abe. Go Oiwa’s side then remained composed when they conceded an injury-time goal which reduced their deficit.
“This is Kashima Antlers. This is how we play. Even in the worst situations, we never give up and always play until the end,” asserted Shoma. “We’re delighted to have flipped the game and come back from a goal down. In the first half, it was a difficult game for us.
“Chivas forced us to play negatively. They showed great technique and put us on the back foot for quite some time, but we managed to adjust to the situation well at half-time. We’re really delighted with the win.”
Kashima’s focus now turns to the dream semi-final with Real Madrid. A starter in all of his side’s games at Japan 2016, Shoma provided three vital assists during the tournament – including one in the final.
The 26-year-old goes into the clash two years older and wiser and with lessons learned from that extra-time defeat in Yokohama.
“We know that if there’s a moment when there’s a lapse of concentration, they will punish us,” said the attacking midfielder. “That’s what we learned from the 2016 final. We don’t want to give them that.
“We’ll concentrate for the whole of the game. Not even a glimpse of a lack of concentration will do for us. We’ll be at our best and express our football against the giants”