Kashiwa Reysol may have bowed out in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup 2011 after a 3-1 defeat to Santos, but the J.League champions are already looking ahead to the match for third place against Al-Sadd, determined to finish an incredible season on a high.
“We went out determined to beat Santos,” forward Hideaki Kitajima told FIFA.com. “That makes the loss all the more disappointing.”
The former Japan international came on as a second-half substitute and put in a typically industrious performance. And although Kashiwa created several clear goalscoring chances, a lack of precision in front of goal meant the game was always just out of their grasp.
Kitajima refused to blame the defeat on a schedule that saw Reysol play three games in 11 days, having wrapped up the J.League crown on the final day of the season. “We train hard and we’re fitter than most J.League teams,” Kitajima said. "In the final 20 minutes of a game, our opponents tire and we can take advantage with our superior fitness. That happened several times during the season. What’s more, our team tactics are sound, so we don’t waste energy running all over the place."
But as Santos showed, goalscoring prowess can be even more important than fitness. Brazil internationals Neymar and Borges netted brilliant first-half goals that set the South American champions on the road to victory, while Kitajima and fellow second-half sub Masakatsu Sawa were unable to convert chances that came their way.
“I think in the end the difference was in the ability to execute scoring chances,” Kitajima said. “That was what cost us.”
Despite the loss, Kitajima believes Reysol can look ahead to the next game—and beyond. “This was a valuable experience for us," said the 33-year-old. "After the game, we spoke about what we’d gained from this. Playing against international competition is what we aspire to do. It’s been a huge learning experience."
Kashiwa captain Hidekazu Otani agreed with Kitajima’s assessment. “I think we created enough chances, but we lacked a bit of precision with our finishing,” he said. “Personally, and as a team, I feel we’ve grown during this tournament. Individually, we might’ve been outclassed, but this should inspire us to improve our skills. The intensity was greater than anything in the J.League, but it was enjoyable at the same time. As a team, we held our own, but individually, we still have some catching up to do.”
After leading his side to Japan’s first-division title just one season after winning the second-tier crown, Otani is determined to end their year on a winning note. “I’d be lying if I said we weren’t fatigued, but that doesn’t mean we can stop running. We’ve played in some wonderful games. Competing against Santos opened my eyes to a different world. But this loss will be for nothing if we don’t use what we’ve learned in the match for third place. We want to show everyone that Reysol have improved."