Downs, Kashima to cross swords

CityPress - - News - MAXWELL RAMARU in Osaka, Ja­pan sports@city­press.co.za

Mamelodi Sun­downs will face an acid test when they start their cam­paign in the Fifa Club World Cup against home side Kashima Antlers in the sec­ond-round match at Suita City Sta­dium at 12.30pm South African time to­day.

The CAF Cham­pi­ons League win­ners will need to be men­tally strong to avoid be­ing in­tim­i­dated by the hosts’ vo­cal fans, who are ex­pected to pack the venue and rally be­hind their team.

The J League win­ners’ fans in­spired their side to come back from a goal down and knock out Ocea­nia Cham­pi­ons Auck­land City from New Zealand 2-1 in their play­off round match on Thurs­day.

But the fact that Kashima, like Downs, are also rook­ies in the com­pe­ti­tion will give Pitso Mosi­mane’s charges con­fi­dence to beat them and progress to the semi­fi­nals, where they will meet Atlético Na­cional of Colom­bia on Wed­nes­day.

Iron­i­cally, the Copa Lib­er­ta­dores cham­pi­ons will be mak­ing their de­but in the tour­na­ment after they qual­i­fied by virtue of be­ing awarded a Fifa Cen­ten­nial Fair Play Award. This was after they suc­cess­fully lob­bied the South Amer­i­can club to award the Copa Su­damer­i­cana tro­phy to Chapecoense, whom they were due to meet in the fi­nal when the plane car­ry­ing the Brazil­ian side crashed, killing 71 peo­ple, in­clud­ing their play­ers.

The fact that Downs are al­ready used to the cold weather con­di­tions, hav­ing ar­rived on Tues­day, could work in their favour. It seems Mosi­mane has also done his home­work as they trained at night to en­sure his play­ers are up for the chal­lenge.

Mid­fielder Hlom­pho Kekana, winger Khama Bil­liat and striker Percy Tau are ex­pected to play key roles for the Tsh­wane gi­ants. But their de­fence will need to keep a close eye on Kashima’s Shuhei Akasaki and Mu Kanazaki, who scored goals that led to Auck­land City’s exit.

There are six teams left in the 13th edi­tion of the Club World Cup. Span­ish gi­ants Real Madrid, who are favourites to lift the tro­phy, hav­ing won in 2014, will start play­ing in the semi­fi­nals. Foot­ball ex­perts Win­ners – $5m (R68.45m) Run­ners-up – $4m (R54.76m) Third spot – $2.5m (R34.22m) Fourth spot – $2m (R27.38m) Fifth spot – $1.5m (R20.53m) Sixth spot – $1m (R13.69m) Sev­enth spot – $500k (R6.84m) have tipped them to be crowned the cham­pi­ons. Eight of the past 12 win­ners came from Europe.

The tour­na­ment, founded in 2000, pits seven teams from six con­fed­er­a­tions against one an­other: Africa, Asia, North Amer­ica, South Amer­ica, Ocea­nia and Europe, plus the hosts.

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

GET­TING READY Thapelo Morena of Mamelodi Sun­downs is tack­led by team-mate Percy Tau dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion at Na­gai Ball Game Field yes­ter­day in Osaka, Ja­pan

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