Kashima's Oiwa optimistic despite loss of players
Guangzhou: Kashima Antlers head coach Go Oiwa is confident his team can challenge for a place in the semi-finals of the 2019 AFC Champions League when they kick off the first leg of their quarter-final against Guangzhou Evergrande on Wednesday despite the loss of three key players over the summer.
Hiroki Abe’s move to FC Barcelona stole the headlines as the young midfielder joined the Spanish giants in July, while the defending Asian champions have also seen full-back Koki Anzai join Portimonense in Portugal and Yuma Suzuki – last year’s AFC Champions League MVP – sign for Belgian club Sint-Truiden.
But Oiwa believes Kashima can compensate for the departure of the trio with their team play as the reigning champions seek to gain an advantage over the Chinese Super League side at Tianhe Stadium in Wednesday’s first leg.
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“Although we’ve lost three key players, our game is based on what we do as a team,” said Oiwa. “There are a lot of good players in our team and I’m grateful for their contribution.
“We are the champions of the AFC Champions League. This is a match between the outstanding teams in Japan and China and I hope we can have a good result. This game is very important and we’ll play aggressively with a strong defence and concentrate on trying to score.”
The two clubs have meet in the knockout rounds of the AFC Champions League before, with the Chinese side progressing to the quarter-finals when they handed Antlers a 2-1 aggregate loss in 2017.
Oiwa was assistant coach to Masatada Ishii during that defeat and replaced his compatriot at the helm when he was removed from his post as a result of the loss, and the former Kashima defender knows the challenge his team face against Evergrande is just as difficult now as it was two years ago.
“I think Guangzhou Evergrande’s foreign players are very strong and their domestic players have shown their strength too,” he said. “They haven’t changed much and they are still very strong.
“Tomorrow we have to first focus on our defence, that’s very important in the AFC Champions League, and I believe we can control the game. We must do a good job in defence while maintaining a balance between offence and defence.”
Guangzhou are not without issues of their own going into the game, having lost Li Xuepeng to an Achilles tendon injury that will require the full-back to undergo surgery in Germany.
However, Fabio Cannavaro has been able to welcome back influential winger Anderson Talisca (pictured below) to his side in recent weeks after several months blighted by injury and the Italian conceded the challenges his team face in the continental championship differ greatly from those of the Chinese Super League, where Evergrande lead the standings by five points.
“The preparation for the AFC Champions League and for the league are very different,” he said. “The opponents we face in the AFC Champions League are the best in Asia. Kashima Antlers are the defending champions and they are very strong.
“But this competition is played on a home-and-away knockout system, so tomorrow’s goal will be to not let our opponents score. That’s what we need to pay most attention to.”
Photos: AFP, AFC
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