Favourites face surprise package in Yokohama

16 Dec 2016

The final of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016 sees host club Kashima Antlers take on European champions Real Madrid in the first-ever meeting between the two sides, an encounter in which the belief of the tournament’s surprise package will be tested by the slick finishing of a team unbeaten in eight months.

The match Real Madrid-Kashima Antlers, International Stadium Yokohama, Sunday 18 December, 19.30 (local time)

Real Madrid reached the Club World Cup for the second time in three years thanks to a superb UEFA Champions League campaign, in which they won nine of their 13 games, drawing three and losing just once. Leaders in La Liga by a comfortable margin, the European champions go into the final buoyed by a 36-match unbeaten run that stretches back to April and by their superlative finishing. So far this season, they have racked up 72 goals.

Los Blancos will hope Sergio Ramos recovers from his muscle problems in time for their bid to win the trophy for a second time. Having made full recoveries from injuries of their own, Casemiro and Toni Kroos will patrol the midfield alongside Luka Modric, the player of the match in the semi-final win over Club America. Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, who scored the goals that sank the Mexican outfit, will aim to provide their customary cutting edge up front.

Facing them will be surprise package Kashima Antlers, who have earned worldwide admiration in battling their way to the final. It was only two short weeks ago that their chances of winning the J1 League title and the Club World Cup ticket that came with it were being written off. Win it they did, however, with Masatada Ishii’s charges subsequently doing the host nation proud by seeing off Auckland City in their opening match of Japan 2016, beating African champions Mamelodi Sundowns in the second round and then pulling off an upset against Copa Libertadores holders Atletico Nacional in the semi-finals.

The Japanese side have amassed some impressive statistics in the process, scoring seven goals so far and firing in 28 shots, more than any other side in the competition on both counts. Kashima’s hopes of landing an unlikely trophy have been boosted by the excellent form of goalkeeper Hitoshi Sohagata, the player of the match in their semi-final, while Shoma Doi and Gaku Shibasaki will have the job of creating play and driving the team forward. Up front, Mu Kanazaki will look to continue the form that has made him the tournament’s joint-highest scorer with two goals, despite the fact he has started all three of his side’s games on the bench. Will the striker be playing the supersub role again on Sunday?

The stat 1 - Kashima Antlers are the first Japanese club ever to qualify for the final of the FIFA Club World Cup. The highest finish by a Japanese side so far in the competition is third, with Urawa Red Diamonds, Gamba Osaka and Sanfrecce Hiroshima achieving that position in 2007, 2008 and 2015, respectively.

The words “We’re here to win the Club World Cup. The players are really up for it, and we’re not thinking about anything else other than winning this trophy.” Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane

“We’ve made it to the final, and all the players have been committed to the cause and have contributed to our success. This is an achievement for Kashima Antlers and for Japanese football, as a whole. It’s the start of a whole new story.” Kashima Antlers coach Masatada Ishii