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History beckons for Navy Blues

Auckland City FC are set to play in the 100th game of the FIFA Club World Cup. FIFA via Getty Images

Auckland City FC will bring up a FIFA Club World Cup record when they play the 100th game in the competition’s history with Kashima Antlers this evening.

The FIFA Club World Cup started in 1999 then went into a hiatus until 2005 when Japan hosted the tournament in its current format.

Since then the Navy Blues have appeared at seven of the tournaments winning bronze in 2014 but tomorrow face a team that has an embarrassing array of riches both on and off the pitch.

Kashima Antlers won the J.League just three days ago and much of the attention in local media is whether or not the new champions can back up their title win against the Oceania amateurs.

Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx travelled to Saitama Stadium on Saturday night for the J.League final and said the Navy Blues have plenty to ponder ahead of tomorrow’s match.

“We have watched plenty of footage (of Kashima) and trust me, we know they are a physical team. They have got Kanazaki up front who can be difficult for any team in the world and doesn’t stop running.

“We have done a lot of work and need to understand exactly how Kashima are going to try and hit us with the ball. They are very direct and maybe they have some similarities to the style of football we have to face in New Zealand.

“I feel we are prepared physically, tactically and mentally for the challenge. We understand how tough it is going to be. If we don’t feel the butterflies and don’t feel that we have got a slight chance we had better stay at home.

“We are keeping our heads high and if we give the best performance we can, then you never know.”

Antlers coach Masatada Ishii will resist the urge to rest some of his key players rather than risk suffering an upset at the hands of the New Zealanders.

Striker Mu Kanazaki is widely regarded as the dangerman and could be the main to cause the Navy Blues plenty of problems at the back.

Kanazaki played a pivotal role in helping Kashima to the J. League title, scoring in the 1-0 semifinal win over Kawasaki Frontale before hitting a brace in the second leg of the final that Kashima won on the away goals rule after a 2-2 aggregate draw.

Auckland don’t have their problems to seek with Mario Bilen’s hopes of starting the match fading according to Tribulietx.

“We’re going to delay until the last minute before we make a decision there. Mario has been a very good player for us in Morocco two years ago and last year. I would say right now its unlikely but our team is good without Mario regardless.

“We’ve got something with Mario in the team, without we’ve got something else. Maybe we’ll be a little bit quicker in midfield with other type of players.

“Regardless of the characteristics of the players we’ve got on the pitch the team will be good defensively and with the ball. I’m 100 percent convinced of that,” Tribulietx said.

Auckland City FC’s form has been patchy in the Stirling Sports Premiership with defeats to Waitakere United and Wellington Phoenix leaving them in second place behind Eastern Suburbs AFC.

Tribulietx said despite that he’s adamant the team is in-form and on track to do well over the course of the season but more importantly in Yokohama tomorrow.

“We have modified a few more things than before because we felt we had to for different reasons.

“I think thats part of the reason some of our early results were not that great even though I thought we played fantastic football.

“We’ve created a lot of chances in games we didn’t manage to score. Maybe one of the reasons we didn’t score was because these changes take time to come.

“We’re feeling confident and we’re looking very good and will try to be very aggressive when we are higher up the pitch,” he said.

The match kicks off at 7.30pm local time at Yokohama International Stadium on Thursday.

The winner advances to the quarter-finals where they will meet African champions Mamelodi Sundowns in Osaka three days later.

Story courtesy of Auckland City FC

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