Last Tuesday night’s win over Persija Jakarta set up the boys perfectly for what is one of the biggest clashes in the Club’s history.
An 18-man squad will head east to Japan over the weekend, ahead of the impending AFC Champions League Play-Off match against Kashima Antlers.
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At stake – a spot in the Group Stage of the competition in 2019.
Here’s what you need to know about our first-ever Japanese opponents.
The path to the ACL
Despite claiming the 2018 edition of the AFC Champions League with a victory over Iranian side, Persepolis, it wasn’t a straightforward entry into this year’s edition of the competition for the Antlers.
They finished third in the J-League last season, which is usually enough to earn a side a direct entry into the Group Stage.
However, due to Urawa Red Diamonds’ triumph in the Emperors’ Cup from fifth place, they claimed the third and final Japanese spot in the Group Stage and Kashima were pushed to the Play Off round.
Much like how we finished second in the Hyundai A-League last season, but lost in the Grand Final and Melbourne Victory snaked our spot in the Group Stage.
The Kashima Antlers squad is a strong one, made up primarily of Japanese players as is the case throughout the J-League due to their restrictions on foreign players.
Atsuto Uchida is a name which may be familiar to Australian football fans - the fullback boasts more than 70 appearances for the Japan national team.
There are seven foreigners amongst the Antlers ranks – five Brazillians, and two from South Korea.
Goalkeeper, Kuon Son-Tae is a veteran of the game. He’s played six games for the national team, was named in the K-League Team of the Year three times while playing with Jeonbuk Motors, and boasts three AFC Champions League medals.
Striker, Yuma Suzuki is one man who the Jets will want to keep a close eye on. The 22-year-old has scored 27 goals in 97 appearances for Kashima, and was named the AFC Champions League 2018 Best Player.
The recent form
As with most teams throughout Asia, the Antlers are currently in the midst of pre-season ahead of their J-League campaign which kicks off next weekend.
Their last competitive fixtures were at the FIFA Club World Cup, where they faced Real Madrid, Mexican side, Guadalajara, and Argentina’s River Plate.
Last Tuesday night, they took on J-League 2 side Mito Hollyhock in a pre-season friendly. The Antlers emerged 1-0 victors.