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Hard work starts now, says two-goal Ito


Kashima: After scoring a brace to help Kashima Antlers come from behind to beat Shandong Luneng 2-1 and qualify for the 2019 AFC Champions League’s knockout stages, Sho Ito has insisted that the competition will only get harder. 

The defending champions went into the game at Kashima Soccer Stadium needing to avoid defeat to progress to the last 16, but fell behind early on when Marouane Fellaini struck after 11 minutes.

One down at the interval, Kashima knew that if the score remained the same and there was a winner between Gyeongnam FC and Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in Group E’s other game, then they would be heading for an early exit.

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The group was momentarily turned on its head midway through the second half as Gyeongnam went in front in Korea Republic, only for Ito to net a quick-fire double soon after to secure a 2-1 victory and second place – behind Shandong – in the standings.

“We were behind and knew we needed goals, so I’m pleased I was able to do that job for my team,” said Ito, who also scored twice when the sides drew 2-2 in China on Matchday Two.

“But all we’ve done is made it through the group stage and what’s important is what comes next. We won but now we have to put the group stage behind us and look ahead.”

 

Kashima began the defence of their title well, picking up seven points from their first three games, before slumping to successive defeats to Gyeongnam and JDT in their last two games.

The losses saw them drop to second in the standings as the Korean and Malaysian sides moved within striking distance ahead of the final round of group stage fixtures.

But ultimately Kashima’s Continental experience told as Ito’s third and fourth goals of the 2019 tournament – all of them having come against Shandong – ensured they qualified for the Round of 16 and an all-Japanese clash against Group F winners Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

 

“Of course we’re pleased we were able to confirm our progression in this game, but we’re also here because of what we did earlier in the group stage," added Ito.

“In the next game against Sanfrecce, just as today, we have to be looking to score several goals. We’ll be aiming to win both games against them and will do everything we can to ensure we do.”

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