Written by Matsu

2 - 0 Mamelodi Sundowns


Kashima Antlers are through to the semifinals of the FIFA Club World Cup, after a 2-0 defeat of African representatives Mamelodi Sundowns. The Antlers seemed to be feeling the effects of their punishing schedule over the past month, and though they were able to maintain possession at midfield fairly well, their offense lacked the sharpness to penetrate into Sundowns territory. The South African team, on the other hand, were bursting with energy, and their superior athleticism allowed them to muscle their way through defensive challenges and dash behind the Kashima defence time and time again. 

But tenacious efforts by the back line duo of Gen Shoji and Naomichi Ueda, and several excellent saves by keeper Hitoshi Sogahata kept the contest scoreless until half time, allowing coach Ishii to revise his tactics and set out a tighter, more compact defensive alignment that focused on preventing penetration and denying the Sundowns shooting chances, rather than trying to win possession in midfield.

As the second half began, Kashima showed much better balance, double-teaming the ball frequently and preventing the individual runs and sweeping waves of attack that had given Sundowns the upper hand in the first 45 minutes. As the Antlers' adjustments blunted their offensive efforts, the South Africans began to get frustrated, and started to leave space at the back for Kashima to use of the counterattack. Just as the momentum started to swing in the home team's favour, coach Ishii brought on Mu Kanazaki, and his introduction almost immediately shattered the overstretched Mamelodi defense. A sweeping run down the right side collapsed the defense, and Shoma Doi headed down a looping cross for the far post, laying it on a silver platter for Yasushi Endo, at the penalty spot. Endo drove his shot straight at the keeper, but he misplayed the ball and fumbled it across the goal line.

Once Kashima had the lead, the dynamics of the contest changed completely. As J.League fans are well aware, there is no other team in Japan that can play as effectively off the back foot, or defend a lead more tenaciously. Once they had moved in front, the Antlers defense could sit back in a tight shell and just let the Sundowns pass the ball futilely in midfield. Whenever they tried to push through the final line of defense, a Kashima player would surge into the passing lane and regain possession. The introduction of the powerful, fleet--footed young Yuma Suzuki alongside Kanazaki in the front row provided an additional option for the outlet pass, and Kashima's counterattacks steadily began to shred the Sundowns back line.

With five minutes to play, Suzuki surged through the last line of defense to collect Endo's lob into the right corner. Collecting the ball and sweeping along the end line, Suzuki sharged the right post, then at the last second, dished the ball back to Kanazaki at the penalty spot. The Antlers' ace only had to pick his spot, and pass the ball into the back of the net, securing the victory and carrying Kashima into the semifinal, where they will face Colombia's Atletico Nacional of Medellin, on Wednesday.

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