Kashima Antlers' Brazilian coach hailed his team's unbeaten progress through the group stage of the AFC Champions League after the disruption and heartache of Japan's twin natural disasters. Kashima scored two second-half goals to secure a 2-1 win over Sydney FC in their temporary home of Tokyo.
Kashima have been forced to play at the National Stadium after their own ground was badly damaged in the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami which ravaged the country in March, stalling the domestic J-League season.
The hard-earned victory after going a goal down leaves Kashima top of Group H with Korean side Suwon Bluewings and Shanghai Shenhua playing later today. Kashima had already qualified for the last-16 and will top the group if Suwon fail to win.
Coach Oswaldo Oliveira said his team was now focused on winning Asia's top club competition. "I think we should be appreciated for getting through the group round under severe conditions following the earthquake; the halt of the league, the change of home games, which affected the conditions and feelings of my players," he said.
Yuya Osako swept home a close-range volley on the 64th minute to equalise for the home side, cancelling out Matthew Jurman's first-half header. Midfielder Takuya Nozawa scored a low 25-yard free-kick through the Sydney wall to secure full points in the 84th minute.
"The Champions League has been becoming tougher and tougher every year, but we don't change our goal to achieve the summit," Oliveira said. "I don't think about the round of 16 especially. Everybody is targeting to become number one."
The top two teams from eight groups qualify for the last-16, before two-legged quarter and semi-finals followed by a one-off final in November. In today's other early game, in Group G, table-topping Korean side Jeonbuk Motors put six beyond a hapless Arema Indonesia, with Krunoslav Lovrek bagging a hat-trick.