Japan's Kashiwa Reysol have turned their sights on the FIFA Club World Cup today after becoming the first club to win the J.League title in their first year after promotion. They will play New Zealand's Auckland City on Thursday in the preliminary play-off between the host nation Japan's top club and the Oceanian champions for a quarter-final spot in the annual tournament of continental champions.
"I have already had plans for Thursday and this victory is motivating us further," Kashiwa coach Nelsinho Baptista said after his squad beat Urawa Reds 3-1 away in the J.League season's final round on Saturday. "We want to make solid preparations against the New Zealand team."
They narrowly won a three-horse race down to the wire for the title on 72 points, only one point ahead of defending champions Nagoya Grampus with former AFC Champions League winners Gamba Osaka one point further back in third spot. It was the first time in the J-League's 19-year history that a club won the J.League title in their first year after promotion.
"We have achieved one goal with this victory. But we have another goal to win the next game and the game after the next," said the 61-year-old Brazilian, in charge of Kashiwa since the middle of 2009. "We shall not change the way in which we have produced results."
Hideaki Kitajima, a 33-year-old veteran forward who has scored nine goals this season, said: "It has been my dream to win the Club World Cup since we were assured of our promotion to the first division last year."
Nelsinho Baptista joined Kashiwa when they were relegated to the second division for the second time since joining Japan's premier league in 1995. He had previously coached Brazilian and other J-League sides including Corinthians and Nagoya Grampus. After returning to the J.League top flight, he made dynamic changes to his line-up led by Brazilian goal machines, Jorge Wagner and Leandro Domingues, as Kashiwa remained in the thick of title contention from the start of the 2011 season.
Wagner, 33, who signed with Kashiwa this season from Sao Paulo, is looking forward to fighting Santos at the Cup. "I fought them over and over while I was in Brazil," he said. "But we want to get ready for Auckland first."
Kashiwa will face Mexico's Monterrey if they get past Auckland City, in a side of the draw where South American champions Santos, starring Brazilian wunderkinds Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso, are semi-final seeds. Four-time European champions Barcelona, with Argentine star Lionel Messi, are the other semi-final seeds.