Japan’s Antlers squeak into Club World Cup quarters

YOKOHAMA, Japan: Substitute Mu Kanazaki snatched a late winner as Japanese champions Kashima Antlers survived a scare to reach the Club World Cup quarterfinals on Thursday, beating part-timers Auckland City 2-1.
The tournament curtain raiser in Yokohama kicked off following a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the recent Colombian plane crash which all but wiped out Brazilian team Chapecoense.
The 100th match in Club World Cup history — the “amuse-bouche” before the likes of Real Madrid join the seven-team competition — also featured the first-ever trial of video assistant referees.
But the technology remained unused in a game that did little to set pulses racing — at least until Korean defender Kim Dae-Wook rose to meet an Emiliano Tade free kick with a bullet header five minutes into the second half.
Another substitute, Shuhei Akasaki, slammed in Kashima’s equaliser in the 67th minute and Japan striker Kanazaki nodded in from close range two minutes from time to complete the comeback.
“It was our first appearance in the tournament and we knew it would be difficult but going behind wasn’t ideal obviously,” said Kashima coach Masatada Ishii.
“They caught us with a set piece but we didn’t panic,” he added.
“I believed we could come back and the two substitutes did a great job.”
The Antlers, who won their eighth J-League title last weekend, face South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns this weekend for the right to take on Colombia’s Atletico Nacional, the South American Libertadores Cup holders, in the first semifinal on December 14.
“We only have a couple of days off before we play the Sundowns and we haven’t had time to analyse them yet but we will be ready,” said Ishii. “We know we can’t afford another first-half performance like today.”
Spanish giants Real, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, are scheduled to arrive in Japan on Monday as they look to win their second world title in three years.
“I wanted to change the flow of the game,” said Kanazaki.
“We feel like we have a responsibility as the hosts so we want to go as far as we can in the tournament.”
Auckland, who were making a record eighth appearance in the Club World Cup, began brightly but wilted as Kashima upped the tempo after going behind.
“In the end we were tiring,” said Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx.
“They were very aggressive and made it tough for us, but I’m proud of how we played. We came very close,” the Auckland City coach said.— AFP