- Yuma Suzuki a key weapon in Kashima Antlers’ AFC Champions League campaign
- The Antlers meet Suwon Bluewings for a spot in this year’s final
- As a 20-year-old Suzuki scored at the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup
Kashima Antlers enter Wednesday's AFC Champions League semi-final second leg at Suwon Bluewings seeking maiden progression to the final. Such a result would also leave the club just a step away from a second appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup. It is a competition in which young attacking ace Yuma Suzuki has already made his mark.
Two years ago, the dynamic 22-year-old showed a glimpse of his genius in front of the watching world with Antlers representing the host country as J.League champions. Sent on for Atsutaka Nakamura late in the semi-final showdown against Atletico Nacional, it took Suzuki just a minute to find the back of the net, latching onto a low cross to seal a famous 3-0 victory against the South American representatives.
Having helped his side reach the final at the global showpiece, the best result ever achieved by an Asian club, Suzuki naturally wants to experience a second Club World Cup appearance in this year's edition in the United Arab Emirates.
"It was a wonderful time playing in that Club World Cup and it was great experience," Suzuki told FIFA.com. "For any player, it is a valuable stage because it features champions from all continents, including the European and South American champions.
"Of course, I want to win this year's AFC Champions League. I think all players, both new faces and those playing at Japan 2016 and the staff of Kashima Antlers want to reach the Club World Cup for a second time."
Indeed, scoring in his Club World Cup debut remains a fond memory for Suzuki. "I just did what I could and that goal should largely be attributed to the fine assist by my team-mate.
"But I was really happy because I scored a goal on the global stage. It is indeed something to remember from my playing career so far."
To reach the 2018 edition, Antlers must first overcome Suwon Bluewings, before winning the final against either Persepolis or Al Sadd. Antlers ran out 3-2 winners at home in the two sides' first-leg meeting in what was a hard-fought encounter and he believes that they can continue their winning form in the return.
"We will try to win maximum points [against Suwon], which will be the best result for us," he said. “They took a two-goal lead in the first leg which made things difficult for us. But we proved our resilience and fought back to win. We had completed our initial mission.
"As for myself, I should work hard alongside my team-mates and try to get a good result. Meanwhile, I need to play my attacking role well and try to score goals.”
In a sense, playing in the Club World Cup debut proved a launch-pad for Suzuki, who has since thrived in his new-found role with Antlers on both the domestic and continental front. Notably, he scored four times from six appearances to propel his side to the knockout stage in last year's AFC Champions League. This season has so far seen him continue to impress on the continental scene while managing to score 11 times in the J.League.
"As a forward, my tasks are working hard and scoring goals. But the most important thing is that the team comes up with a good result. Our head coach [Go Oiwa] has stressed that good attack is based on fine defence. So we try to adapt to the tactics and control the games.”
Already hailed as a promising star, Suzuki didn’t conceal his ambitions of playing for a top European club. “My top goals are to appear in the UEFA Champions League competition. I have heard anthems in the stands [as a spectator] and I want to listen to it again as a player on the pitch one day.”