Japan’s Kashima Antlers plan to unleash a secret weapon to strike terror into Spanish giants Real Madrid when they meet in this weekend’s Club World Cup final: a sharp-toothed crocodile.
Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo after sustaining an injury. (REUTERS)
Though relative minnows on the world stage, a voracious predator with a deadly bite lurks in the Kashima side in the form of defender Naomichi Ueda, who fired a warning ahead of Sunday’s Yokohama clash.
“I’m a crocodile,” he said. “Just as a crocodile will complete its conquest by dragging its prey into the water, I just want to bring them down — whether it’s in the air or on the ground, one on one.”
Killer reptiles notwithstanding, Kashima face overwhelming odds against a Real side on a club record win streak of 36 matches.
They finished a distant third in the J-League season before capturing the championship playoff less than two weeks ago.
But Kashima became the first Japanese side to reach the Club World Cup final after stunning Colombia’s Atletico Nacional 3-0 in midweek.
“If I don’t score again in the final, I’ll quickly be forgotten,” said striker Yuma Suzuki, who celebrated scoring Kashima’s third goal in Osaka by copying Ronaldo’s trademark macho man goal pose.
“I had no choice,” added the 20-year-old, whose celebration after scoring with his first touch off the bench even set tongues wagging on Spanish television.
“It’s like a dream. Now I want to do it on front of Ronaldo’s very eyes.”
Whether or not his childhood idol Ronaldo sees the funny side is likely to depend on the score in Yokohama but a defiant Suzuki told Japan’s Nikkan Sports: “I will show Real Madrid how Japanese football has grown.”
Real coach Zinedine Zidane insisted the European champions and Spanish league leaders would not underestimate the pugnacious Antlers as his side chases a second world title in three years.
“It’s basically a home game for them so the conditions favour them,” said the Frenchman after his side’s comfortable 2-0 semi-final win over Club America.
“For us it’s all about recovering properly for Sunday. We will study the Antlers between now and the final and we’ll be ready.”
While Real’s collection of global superstars are expected to ease to victory, Suzuki already has his heart set on a consolation prize — Ronaldo’s shirt.
“Hopefully I can get to him first and get it,” he said after training on Friday.
“He might be the enemy during the game but after the final whistle I’ll be his greatest fan again.”