Kashima’s Shoji: We’re in it to win it
Ibaraki: Gen Shoji insists that Kashima Antlers have their sights firmly set on winning the 2018 AFC Champions League ahead of the J.League side’s Group H opener against Shanghai Shenhua at Kashima Soccer Stadium on Wednesday.
Kashima progressed to the Round of 16 last year before being eliminated on away goals by China’s Guangzhou Evergrande as they failed, yet again, to reach the last eight of the continental competition.
The eight-time J.League champions have only once reached the quarter-finals, back in 2008, but defender Shoji believes Kashima can improve on their previous showings and follow in the footsteps of their domestic rivals and AFC Champions League holders Urawa Red Diamonds.
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“So far Kashima Antlers (during Shoji’s time) have only been able to get to the last 16,” said Shoji, who has been at the club since 2011 and three times appeared in the first knockout round.
“We especially have to make sure we win our homes games during the group stage. Seeing that our first game of the campaign is at home, we definitely need to be victorious.
“We want to end up as champions. I don’t use this term lightly and I know by me saying this I will need to show that spirit and determination on the pitch.”
Kashima won all four of their home games in the 2017 campaign but struggled on the road, losing three from four as they fell at the first knockout round for fourth time since 2009.
In a similar fashion, Urawa also struggled outside of Japan but were able to get the results needed in front of their own fans to ultimately become the first Japanese side to win the trophy since Gamba Osaka in 2008.
“As I’m Japanese, I was really happy that Urawa won, even though they are our rivals in the J.League,” admitted Shoji of the Saitama side, who failed to qualify for this season’s tournament.
“But seeing how Urawa seemed to struggle in the league reminded me how difficult it is to be in two major competitions at the same time. This is something that we need to keep in mind this time.”
In addition to the Chinese Super League side, Kashima are joined in Group H by Korea Republic’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Sydney FC of Australia in what is, ironically, the same four teams that made up Group H back in 2011.
Kashima have also brought in several new faces ahead of the current campaign, with defender Atsuto Uchida’s return following eight successful years in Germany undoubtedly the star arrival.
“The new players in our squad are intelligent and great additions to the team,” added Shoji.
“Even if they are players who have not played in the ACL, people like Uchida have experience of playing against some of the best teams in the world.
“The ACL is very different from the J.League, so I would like to share my experience with the new players and help them adjust to the differences.”
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