Shoji: The title is our holy grail
Tehran: Gen Shoji is looking to draw on his wealth of experience to lead Japan’s Kashima Antlers to glory on Saturday, when they clash with Persepolis of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the second leg of the 2018 AFC Champions League final.
Kashima are 2-0 ahead in the tie thanks to first leg goals from Leo Silva and Serginho, but still have to negotiate the famous Azadi Stadium atmosphere if they are to reach the promised land and claim their first ever continental crown.
Shoji, however, has played on some of the biggest stages in the game, including at the FIFA World Cup for Japan and FIFA Club World Cup for Kashima, and is confident he has what it takes to cope in the heat of the action.
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“I have a reasonable amount of experience in international competition and although Kashima have several players with the same, maybe more than half the team don’t, so I want to do my best to transmit the experience I have gained to my teammates,” the 25-year-old said.
“For everybody involved with the club the AFC Champions League is the holy grail – it’s the title we really crave. We’ve made it this far so now we just have to do it. I really want to take the title.”
Shoji believes the Persepolis players will try and unsettle Kashima once proceedings get underway in Tehran, and is preaching calmness from his teammates once they cross the white line.
“It, of course, depends on the result in the game, but I feel like there is more guile to their game, and that they will try to frustrate us. They really use their heads in the game.”
The Kashima captain is anticipating plenty of intimidation from the stands as well – with the Azadi set to be packed to the rafters as Persepolis also aim for their maiden AFC Champions League title – but insists the players should embrace the opportunity to play in such an electric atmosphere.
“I feel like the style of support from the fans is a little different (in West Asia). Even simple plays draw huge cheers from the crowd, and I think it’s going to be really tough.
“As a football player you’re only going to get the opportunity to play in that kind of environment once or twice in your whole life. I played away to Saudi Arabia (for Japan) when there were around 60- or 70,000 fans, and I think that for us players it’s a great experience."
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