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Kashima Antlers (Japan, hosts)
Backed by the Nippon Steel & Sumitomo, Metal Kashima Antlers are Japan’s most successful club and one of only two teams to have competed in the country’s top flight of professional football every year since its inception.
Kashima won the first stage of the J. League to enter the post-season play-off, finished third in the overall standings this season. They defeated Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 away from home to finish second in the overall standings to book a spot in the final against Urawa Reds.
After ending the regular season a full 15 points behind Urawa, Antlers lost the first leg at home 1-0 and conceded another in the second leg at Saitama Stadium, but a goal in each half from Mu Kanazaki secured a 2-2 draw on aggregate and the title.
It was a record eighth title for Japan’s powerhouse (they have won 18 domestic trophies) and ensured they completed the line-up at this year’s Club World Cup.
The 49-year-old Masatada Ishii stepped up from his previous role as assistant coach in 2015, and although he briefly stepped down in the summer, he picked up the reins again later in 2016.
Ishii became the first Japanese manager to lead the team to a league title after a string of victories by Brazilian managers.
“We want to give a good performance as the J. League representatives and reach the final,” Ishii told a press conference on Monday, two days after his team won the league title.
Mu Kanazaki scored the only goal of the game in the semi-final victory over Kawasaki Frontale and both goals in the 2-1 victory over Urawa Reds to clinch the J-League title for Kashima. Although he made his full international debut in 2009 the Japan forward, now 27, appears to be coming into the best form of his life.
A solid defence and some predatory finishing have been the hallmarks of Antlers’ success this season. Just ten goals conceded in 17 league matches highlights the principal strength of Ishii’s team, but it has been their ability to raise their game against the leading clubs that has carried the club to glory in 2016.
December 8 Hosts v Auckland City
December 11 Jeonbuk v Mamelodi Sundowns
Club America v Kashima Antlers
Fifth place play-off
December 14 tbc v Atletico Nacional
December 15 tbc v Real Madrid
Third place play-off