We're not satisfied with just one title, says Misao
Guangzhou: Kashima Antlers midfielder Kento Misao insists that the AFC Champions League holders are determined to keep their title defence alive ahead of Wednesday's quarter-final with two-time winners Guangzhou Evergrande.
Being among the Kashima number crowned Asia's kings last year was a highlight in the career of 23-year-old Tokyo-native Misao, but the 2018 AFC Player of the Year nominee is adamant that neither he nor his teammates are content to sit on their laurels.
Their campaign to become the first back-to-back champions since Al Ittihad in 2005 – and, indeed, just the second in the AFC Champions League's history – is set to face a huge test in the last eight against 2013 and 2015 winners Guangzhou.
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"No one at our club is simply satisfied to be Asian champions, everyone wants to lift the title again," said Misao.
"We know we have a target on us, and that every club in the competition knows we are the holders and tries to analyse us and to beat us.
"But our goal, right at the beginning of this year, was to retain our crown. All our players, including me, are trying to make this dream come true."
Opponents Guangzhou are familiar foes for Misao and his team. At the 2017 tournament the sides faced off in the Round of 16, in what was Kashima's first appearance in the knockout stage since 2011.
In that meeting, Guangzhou's Brazilian midfielder Paulinho was to be the difference as he scored in both legs as the Chinese Super League side took the tie on away goals.
"I remember that the atmosphere at Tianhe Stadium was really overwhelming and the stands were packed with fans," recalls Misao.
"The Guangzhou players, both Chinese and foreigners, were of a very high level and they were, and are, clearly one of the best clubs in the Chinese Super League.
"Paulinho actually didn't do that much in the two games, but ultimately he scored the goals which took them to the next round, so you can see what a dangerous player he is.
"Although it was a regrettable result for us, I began to break into the team not long after the match.
"I am sure I'm a better player now than I was then and will aim to show my presence on the pitch this time."
While Guangzhou boast an impressive home record and haven't lost at Tianhe since the 2015 Group Stage, Misao believes a positive result is essential for the visitors.
"It's difficult to take control of the game in an away match as the home side are always boosted by their home support, but if we can get an away goal if would be a big advantage for us," he added.
"You have to think of the series of matches as one 180 minutes match. To make that second 90 minutes – the second half of the tie – easier for us, it's important get a good result in the 'first half' in China."
"On the other hand, if we can't at least get an away goal then the second leg is going to be very tough for us.
"Although it won't be easy, it's key that we get a good result in the first leg."
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