Veteran forward Hideaki Kitajima was at the heart of Kashiwa Reysol’s nail-biting charge to their first J.League title, and the former Japan international is hoping his team can continue their sparkling form at the FIFA Club World Cup.
“As J.League champions, many people in Japan are expecting big things from us,” Kitajima told FIFA.com. “As a team, we want to win, while personally I just want to score whenever I’m on the field and contribute to the team.”
In claiming the title, Kashiwa became the first team to lift the first-division crown just one season after winning the second division. The historic achievement owed much to the flair of J.League Player of The Year Leandro Domingues and fellow Brazilian midfielder Jorge Wagner, as well as talented youngsters like defender Hiroki Sakai and midfielder Akimi Barada. According to Kitajima, who made his Reysol debut in 1997, the team’s success in the past two seasons has been down to getting the basics right.
“We always run our hearts out, and I think the team is disciplined and technically outstanding,” the 33-year-old said. “We can hit on the counter-attack, and we can dominate by playing a possession game. Moreover, we can adjust our playing style when circumstances call for it.”
These attributes helped Kashiwa to a first-division title sealed on the final day with a 3-1 away win over Urawa Reds that kept them one point clear of defending champions Nagoya Grampus, with Gamba Osaka a point further back. There has been little time to rest for Reysol since Saturday’s triumph, and Kitajima has already turned his sights to the team’s opening FIFA Club World Cup game against Oceania representative Auckland City on Thursday.
“We’ll give our all in every match,” Kitajima said, adding that the FIFA Club World Cup is “a stage I’ve dreamed of playing on". "I don’t want to just take part, I want to play well and win," he added. "The team feels the same, no matter what the game is."
Kashiwa coach Nelsinho Baptista is another not resting on his laurels, and refuses to take his unfancied New Zealand opponents lightly.
“I’ve seen two of their games, but there are still aspects of their team and tactics that are unknown to us,” the Brazilian said. “They’ve got players from Argentina and Costa Rica. They deserve respect because they were good enough to reach the Club World Cup, but we want to get a good result. Our standards remain the same regardless of which players are on the pitch, and we want to continue like that. We don’t just want to make up the numbers here, we want to keep winning like we have over the past two seasons."