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Kashima raring for Guangzhou showdown

Ibaraki: Kashima Antlers will be targeting revenge when they face Guangzhou Evergrande in the quarter-finals of the 2019 AFC Champions League, with Shoma Doi determined to turn the tables on the Chinese side following elimination by the same opponents in the 2017 edition.

Doi played in both legs when Kashima slid out at the Round of 16 phase at the hands of the Chinese Super League club – and two-time AFC Champions League winners – as Antlers continued a dismal record of failing to advance to the last eight for the fourth time since 2009.

But, with their confidence since boosted by their first-ever title win last year, Doi is convinced he and his teammates can avenge that loss and keep alive their dream of claiming back-to-back AFC Champions League crowns.

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“We played against them in 2017 and we lost the first game 1-0,” said Doi of the opening leg at Guangzhou’s Tianhe Stadium two years ago. “At home we scored the first goal but we conceded a second goal and we lost.

“So we have to make sure that doesn’t happen again. We’ll be looking for some revenge this time.”

Kashima have yet to hit the heights of their run to a first AFC Champions League title last year and it was a brace from Doi in the return leg of their meeting with fellow J.League side Sanfrecce Hiroshima that ensured they progressed to the quarter-finals.

Injuries have taken their toll on the eight-time Japanese champions, who staggered through the group phase before taking second place in Group E behind Shandong Luneng.

Despite several key absences Kashima still managed to book their place in the last eight, but only after seeing off Sanfrecce on the away goals rule in a dramatic second leg in Hiroshima.

“We’ve had some players who have been injured who played last year, so our squad is different,” Doi said. “Of course we feel we’re under pressure as defending champions but personally I enjoy this kind of pressure. I’m motivated and in good condition. What I want to do is just enjoy the game and get to the next stage.

“In the group phase many young players had the chance to play and we were able to get through. We have been able to show our strength as champions. There have been some players who have been injured and we haven’t been able to field our best team, but that’s often the case in sport. Any player who is on the field playing for Kashima Antlers should be proud to be there at any time.

“Scoring the first away goal is very important in the AFC Champions League. We won the first leg against Sanfrecce 1-0 and in the second leg in Hiroshima we scored the first goal and that made things a bit easier. That was the plan for us.

“Hiroshima were a tough team, tougher than we thought. When they scored it gave them more energy. It was important for us to get a second goal and in the second half I got that goal and that was very influential for us.”

Having seen off Hiroshima, Doi is relieved not to be facing Japanese opposition again next month after Kashima avoided Urawa Red Diamonds, the other remaining J.League side left in the draw.

“The technique of Japanese teams is much higher than the other teams in the AFC Champions League, but the other teams make up for that technique with their power and the physical side of the game,” he said.

“They are always motivated when they play against us and that’s an important point because it’s something that we don’t experience when we play in Japan. When we play Chinese teams they have very good foreign players and we don’t see these kind of players in the J.League and we have to deal with that.

“To be honest, we can play Japanese teams at any time so we want to play against opponents from somewhere else, from China or Korea Republic.”

With the idea of broadening their horizons in mind, the ultimate goal, stressed Doi, is to retain the AFC Champions League trophy and make a return to the global stage at the FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar in December.

“This club has won many titles and last year we won the AFC Champions League title for the first time,” he said. “If we can get the AFC Champions League title two years in a row then we will have shown the rest of Asia our value. Everyone here thinks that. And personally I’d love to go to the FIFA Club World Cup again and that’s great motivation for all of us.”

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