Saturday 10 December 2016, 15:25

Shibasaki: No10 is a magnificent number

The Kashima Antlers No10 shirt has been worn by some world class footballers over the years, including the Brazilian great Zico and his compatriots Leonardo, a 1994 FIFA World Cup™ winner and 1990 FIFA World Cup squad member Bismarck. Those distinguished players have been instrumental in passing down the “spirit of Zico” that the legend instilled in the Japanese club during its formative years. At the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016, Kashima’s famous No10 shirt is worn by rising star Gaku Shibasaki.

In an exclusive interview with ahead of Kashima’s second-round match against South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns, Shibasaki discussed his excitement at playing against the CAF Champions League winners and his pride in the legacy of his club’s No.10 shirt.

Kashima are making their first appearance at the Club World Cup, and midfielder Shibasaki knows Antlers’ narrow 2-1 win over Auckland City in the opening game was a valuable wake-up call.

“That certainly wasn’t our greatest performance,” he said of the come-from-behind win over the New Zealand club. “But our main objective was to advance to the next round and we achieved that. I want to carry the momentum generated by this victory into the next game.”

After scraping past the Oceanian champions, Kashima’s next opponent is the champions of Africa and Shibasaki is looking forward to the challenge posed by the Pretoria-based club. “I watched Japan’s game against Cote d’Ivoire at the 2014 World Cup on TV. African sides are physically gifted, and they also are technically very good. I think Africa is a continent with huge potential when it comes to football,” said Shibasaki. “I’m really looking forward to the Sundowns game.”

Integral to Kashima’s system, Shibasaki will be a key figure in the battle for midfield dominance in Sunday’s match but realizes that nullifying the physical, speedy Africans will be no easy task. “If we concentrate during set plays and lift our overall performance, I think we can win,” the Japan international said. “In every game, midfielders try to control possession and field position. If we can gain ascendency there, we’ll get a huge advantage.”

The game will feature the latest Kashima player entrusted to wear Zico’s No10 shirt against a team that is dubbed the Brazilians because their kit is similar to that worn by the South American team. Although Shibasaki is only 24, he is keenly aware of the significance of the number he wears for Antlers: “Given the pedigree of the players who have worn this shirt, I think No10 is a magnificent number. All I can do is try my hardest. I want our fans to see Kashima winning games,” he said.

This year, Kashima won a record eighth J.League title. The performance of Antlers playmaker Shibasaki will be pivotal to the Japanese champions’ prospects of progressing further in the Club World Cup.