Two steps from heaven

12 Dec 2016

Copa Libertadores champions Atletico Nacional make their FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016 entrance on Wednesday, taking on host club Kashima Antlers in the first semi-final, at Suita City Football Stadium. The prize for the winners is a place in the final against either Club America or Real Madrid.

The match Atletico Nacional-Kashima Antlers, Suita City Football Stadium (Osaka), Wednesday 14 December, 19.30 (local time)

Atletico Nacional have had to wait for a long time for another shot at global glory since losing to AC Milan in the last minute of extra time in the 1989 Intercontinental Cup. El Verde de la Montaña have the opportunity to show, on one of the biggest stages of all, the attributes that took them to Copa Libertadores and Copa Colombia titles and earned them their ticket to Japan. The Colombian side have no intention of changing their principles now that they have got so close to fulfilling a dream.

Defensive solidity is one of the main facets of this Atletico team, especially with the ever-dependable Franco Armani between the posts. Meanwhile, Macnelly Torres is the man who directs operations for a side that always strives to provide quick supply to Miguel Borja. Much will be expected of the young Colombian striker, who tends to make the most of the chances that come his way, as shown by his haul of 39 goals for the year so far. The Copa Libertadores champions are up against tricky opposition, however.

Kashima Antlers have already shown at Japan 2016 what they can do, playing a patient game in fighting back from a goal down to beat Auckland City in the opening match of the competition. Then, in the second round, the Japanese side negated the power of Mamelodi Sundowns in the first half before surging away in the second to record a comfortable win.

The host club play a high-intensity game, press far up the pitch and like to get the ball forward quickly into dangerous positions, where Ryota Nagaki and Shoma Doi can move it around at pace and where Mu Kanazaki provides the chief goal threat. The No33 is the sensation of the tournament so far, scoring goals from the bench and posing considerable danger in every attack.

The stat 5 - Reinaldo Rueda is set to become the Colombian coach with the most appearances in FIFA competitions. In charge of Colombia at the 1993 and 2003 U-20 World Cups, the Cali-born Rueda also took Honduras to South Africa 2010 and Ecuador to Brazil 2014.

The words “We have the chance to show that Colombian teams have improved in terms of their character. Kashima play with intensity, they’re organised and they’ve got style. They’re also quick on the ball. It’s a match in which we’ll have to be sharp for the whole 95 minutes. We need a great performance if we’re going to go through.” Atletico Nacional coach Reinaldo Rueda

“I’ve only seen Atletico Nacional play once, but we know that South American teams are talented and tactically astute. We have to be at our very best to beat them.” Kashima Antlers coach Masatada Ishii