Kashima Antlers secured their place at this year’s Club World Cup with a dramatic away goals win over Urawa Reds that secured the 2016 J-League title.
With Japan welcoming the Club World Cup this December, Kashima became the second Asian Football Confederation team to qualify for the tournament as champions of the host nation.
Trailing 1-0 from the first-leg, Kashima secured the trophy the hard way.
Shinzo Koroki made it 2-0 to home side Urawa Reds before Mu Kanazaki’s brace brought the Antlers level, the final ending 2-2 on aggregate and seeing Kashima seal the trophy by virtue of their two away goals.
It means Kashima will kick-off the Club World Cup against Oceania Football Confederation Champions League winners Auckland City on December 8 in Yokohama.
The winners of that tie will progress to the quarter-finals and take on South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns who claimed this year’s CAF Champions League crown.
Antlers join newly crowned AFC Champions League winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors as Asia’s two representatives in the tournament.
Jeonbuk overcome UAE outfit Al Ain last month and face Mexico’s CONCACAF Champions League winners America in the quarters before the mouth watering prospect of taking on Real Madrid in the semis.
The other semi-finalist is 2016 Copa Libertadores champions Atletico Nacional, who were due to play Chapecoense in the final of the Copa Sudamericana before the Brazilian side met tragedy last week.
A mesmerising set-piece goal by Faiz Subri, the attacking midfielder for Malaysia Super League club Penang, has made it to the final list of three nominees for FIFA’s prestigious Puskas Award.
The winner will be announced at the FIFA awards in Zurich, Switzerland on January 9.
In what was one of the most outrageous free-kicks of 2016, Subri, firing from approximately 35 yards out on the left wing, pulled off a brilliant effort that saw the ball initially swerve left, but then changed direction to dip to the right before hitting the top corner.
Penang, who were playing Pahang in George Town, went on to win the match 4-1.
Among the top ten efforts, the three goals with most votes will now undergo a second voting process. Corintihians’ Johnath Marlone and Daniuska Rodriguez of Venezuela’s Under-17 national womens’ side were the others elected alongside Subri.
Mario Gaspar (Villareal/Spain), Hlompho Kekana (Mamelodi Sundowns/South Africa), Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid/Spain), Hal Robson-Kanu (West Bromwich Albion/Wales), Simon Skrabb (Gefle IF/Finland) and Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Argentina) were the others who made up the list of top-ten nominees for the award.
Do you think this could win the award in Zurich?
Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman’s ascension to 2016 AFC Player of the Year could act as inspiration
towards a historic transfer to Europe, according to celebrated former team-mate Asamoah Gyan.
Abdulrahman, 25, beat China winger Wu Lei and Iraq striker Hammadi Ahmed to the honour at the glamorous 2016 AFC Annual Awards on Thursday in Abu Dhabi.
This topped off an incredible campaign, which contained eight man of the matches in 14 games during Al Ain’s path to defeat in the AFC Champions League final to South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
The perennial question about becoming the first UAE international to transfer permanently to the old continent in the post-ceremony press conference received a non-committal reply from ‘Amoory’.
For Gyan, who scored 128 goals in 123 matches alongside him in the Garden City from 2011-15, this honour might act as the spark which would force through a seismic switch.
“I think he deserves it,” said the Ghana striker, who is on loan at Al Ahli from China’s Shanghai SIPG. “He has every right to win the award. I think he deserves it. He is a great player, with great vision. He has incredible quality.
“From my memories, he made me score a lot of goals. Most of my success here come from him. He has been able to lead a team to the (AFC Champions League) final. I think he deserves it.
“I have had a couple of talks with him. He wished to play in Europe two years ago, but I don’t know what he has decided now.
“I think he has that quality to play in Europe. But he needs to dedicate himself more, for the training. He is not somebody who likes to work in the gym. But he is great, as far as he does his work on the field – I think he can play.”
Further validation for the talent contained in the ‘Golden Generation’ is shown by the fact Abdulrahman was following on from Al Ahli forward Ahmed Khalil’s opening success for an Emirati last year.
UAE and Ahli left-back Walid Abbas, 31, insisted the talent pool was so deep for the World Cup 2018-chasers that another triumph in the next edition could not be discounted.
He said: “It is good for us, especially our players. I think we deserve this. That means we have good players and we hope (to win) next year, also. Omar deserves to win this title. He played good with the national team and also with Al Ain.
“It is good for him and for our national team. He is improving and getting a lot of experience. I think because he was a bit young, now he is playing a lot of international and AFC Champions League games. I think his teammates have also supported him.”
Brazilian forward Leonardo was one of the leading lights of the 2016 ACL, scoring 10 times in 14 games for winners Jeonbuk. He declared he had rarely witnessed a talent like ‘Amoory’.
“I never saw a player like this in Asia,” he said. “I play against China teams, Australia teams and Japanese teams, and I never saw one player like this.”