Friday 09 December 2016, 06:19

Kashima ace Kanazaki hungry for more

Kashima Antlers made a winning start in the opening match against Auckland City at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016. The first half ended scoreless, but a goal early in the second half by Auckland stirred Kashima into life and set the stage for a dramatic come-from-behind victory.

In an interview with before the match, Kashima’s evergreen midfield general Mitsuo Ogasawara spoke about the club’s philosophy of playing to win, whatever the situation. The J.League champions certainly had to draw on that spirit—ingrained in Kashima by Brazilian legend Zico during the club’s early days—as they fought back for a 2-1 victory in their maiden appearance at the Club World Cup.

Auckland took the lead early in the second half, but Shuhei Akasaki equalised for Kashima in the 67th minute. As extra time loomed, Antlers striker Mu Kanazaki continued his recent goalscoring heroics by grabbing the dramatic winner in the 88th minute.

“We were thinking only of winning this game,” Kanazaki said in an interview with after the match. “We are the host nation representatives, so we must ensure our performances live up to expectations.”

We must sharpen up and focus for the next game.

Kanazaki was Kashima’s top scorer this season with ten goals, and he demonstrated his knack for finding the net in crucial matches by scoring three times across three games of the J.League Championship play-offs.

Kanazaki scored with a diving header in a 1-0 win over Kawasaki Frontale in the semi-final play-off to book Kashima’s spot in the home-and-away final against Urawa Reds. Antlers lost the first leg 1-0, but Kanazaki scored both of Kashima’s goals (a header and a penalty) in their 2-1 win in the return match. The tie ended 2-2 on aggregate, but Kashima were crowned champions on the away-goals rule.

Kanazaki again showed his big-match temperament after coming on as a substitute in the second half against Auckland City, as he headed in the late winner that sent Antlers to the second round of the Club World Cup for a meeting with CAF Champions League winners Mamelodi Sundowns.

Although Antlers made a victorious start, Kanazaki believes the Ibaraki Prefecture-based club will need to improve in the next round. “We won, but if we play like this again next time, we’ll definitely lose,” the 27-year-old said. “We must sharpen up and focus for the next game.”

For his part, Kanazaki has quickly turned his attention to the match against Sundowns and his – and  Kashima’s – commitment to winning was again in evidence as he took his leave: “I’m only thinking about winning. I’ll do everything I can to help my team.”