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Kashima put the world on notice

Kashima Antlers' inspiring exploits at the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup have made the global football family sit up and take notice of the giant strides forward being made by Asia.

shibasaki

Guzo Shibasaki hits Kashima's first goal Source: AAP

The new J.League champions became the first Asian club to reach the world final and they gave European masters Real Madrid an almighty fright before going down 4-2 in an absorbing contest in Yokohama.

Playing their fourth match in 10 days, Kashima served notice to the world of the J.League's strength by taking their positive game to their far more famous opponents and they even took the lead with two splendid goals from Guzo Shibasaki after Karim Benzema had stuck early for Madrid before that man Cristiano Ronaldo slotted home a penalty to square the ledger.

Playing the kind of organised football that was not far off that of 'Los Blancos', Kashima bravely sought victory when most clubs in their situation would have settled for extra time.

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It was quite extraordinary to see mighty Madrid hang on desperately in the latter stages of the game and goalkeeper Keylor Navas forced to make two good saves to take the game into extra time.

Ronaldo finished off Kashima with two more goals to complete the 40th hat-trick in his club and country career to cap off what he later described as a "dream year".

Madrid and Ronaldo understandably grabbed all the headlines after recording a calendar year treble of sorts comprising the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and now the Club World Cup - Ronaldo also won the European Championship with Portugal - but Kashima's eye-opening contribution to the tournament should not be dismissed or forgotten.

The Antlers, who took part in the event as representatives of the host country, showed that Asia's finest are not to be treated as cannon fodder anymore by the European and South American giants.

To Kashima's credit, Madrid were forced to dig deep to translate their superior technique and expertise into victory. Make no mistake about that.

Who knows what could have happened if captain Sergio Ramos had been sent off as he should have been in the final moments of regular time with the score at 2-2 and the momentum with Kashima.
Ramos, who was on a yellow card, brought down an opponent and Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe had already put his hand in his pocket to issue a second yellow before he inexplicably bottled it and changed his mind and simply gave a foul to Kashima, much to the relief of the star defender and his coach Zinedine Zidane.

The Frenchman thus emulated Carlo Ancelotti in winning the competition in its current form as a player and a coach.

Ancelotti won it as an AC Milan player and a coach of Milan and Real Madrid while Zidane prevailed as a  Juventus player and now a Madrid coach. 

In the end it was not to be for Kashima but they will always remember the night they extended the formidable European champions in front of a full house at Yokohama.

And it is a measure of how well Kashima played and how close they came to springing a major upset that Madrid ultimately owed their victory to the amazing Ronaldo, who had a rather poor game but still managed to help himself to a hat-trick at the same ground in which the other Ronaldo covered himself in glory with two goals in Brazil's 2002 FIFA World Cup final 2-0 win against Germany.

Kashima's overall performance in the Club World Cup - they thrashed South American champions Atletico Nacional of Colombia 3-0 in the semi-final, remember - will give the rest of Asia plenty of hope and courage.

It will show that the technical gap separating Asia from Europe and South America is getting narrower all the time.

And with more quality players being attracted to this part of the world, who knows, such nights as that provided by Kashima might become the rule not the exception.


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4 min read
Published 19 December 2016 at 8:39am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS