MX23RW : Tuesday, February 19 01:18:44

Preview: Kashima Antlers vs. Real Madrid - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews the Club World Cup semi-final between Kashima Antlers and two-time defending champions Real Madrid, including predictions and team news.

Real Madrid will begin their FIFA Club World Cup campaign on Wednesday afternoon when they take on Kashima Antlers in the semi-final of the competition.

The champions of Asia meet the champions of Europe in Abu Dhabi, with the winner setting up a showdown against either River Plate or Al Ain in Saturday's final.


Kashima Antlers

Kashima Antlers' Hiroki Abe celebrates scoring their third goal with teammate on December 15, 2018© Reuters

It has been a good year for Japanese football, with the national team making it to the knockout stages of the World Cup and only narrowly losing to eventual third-place playoff winners Belgium in the last 16 - having led 2-0 with just over 20 minutes remaining.

While the 94th-minute goal they conceded in that game broke the hearts of thousands of fans, those supporters helped to light up the World Cup and Kashima Antlers will be hopeful of doing the same in Abu Dhabi.

Entertainment was certainly the order of the day for their quarter-final contest as they recovered from conceding an early goal to beat Guadalajara and earn their place in this match.

Goals from Ryota Nagaki, Serginho and Hiroki Abe were enough to see off the CONCACAF kings 3-2, setting up another showdown with a familiar foe.

Kashima received widespread plaudits when they reached the final of this competition just two years ago, when Madrid were once again the opposition facing the home favourites in Yokohama.

The Japanese outfit took their more illustrious opponents all the way to extra time too, but Cristiano Ronaldo proved to be the difference with two goals in the added time to complete his hat-trick.

Kashima will not have to come up against Ronaldo this time, though, and they will take plenty of encouragement from Madrid's indifferent form so far this season as they look to pull off an upset which would send shockwaves around world football.

To paint Kashima as minnows would be doing them a disservice - they are, after all, the most decorated Japanese club of the professional era, champions of their continent and the only Asian team to have made it all the way to the final of the Club World Cup before.

However, victory over Real Madrid would still be a historic moment for a club that only managed third place in the recently-finished J League season, and it is one they will feel is highly achievable.

Recent form: DWWDLW


Real Madrid

Proud Real Madrid manager Santiago Solari pictured on December 1, 2018© Reuters

These mid-season trips away are becoming something of a habit for Real Madrid, whose unprecedented Champions League success in recent years means that this is their third successive Club World Cup campaign and their fourth in five years.

Victories over San Lorenzo, Kashima and Gremio in that time mean that Madrid sit level with bitter rivals Barcelona on three Club World Cup titles, and another triumph this year would take them out on their own as the most successful team in the competition's history.

There are a couple of steps to achieve before they can start thinking about that, though, and while the European team traditionally come into this tournament as favourites having won nine of the last 10 editions, Madrid's progress is far from certain given their current form.

It has been a chaotic 2018-19 campaign so far as the losses of Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo during the summer continue to take their toll, and the team have been whistled off in each of their last two matches.

A 3-0 defeat at home to CSKA Moscow last Wednesday suggested that there is a lot of work to do if Madrid are to return to this competition for a fourth time next year, while even victory at the weekend was not enough to appease the frustrated fans.

Madrid survived a late scare to scrape a 1-0 win over struggling Rayo Vallecano - a team they put 10 past on their last visit to the Bernabeu - meaning that they have only managed narrow victories over the bottom two in their last two league outings.

Santiago Solari's record in charge is still a good one - nine wins from 11 games across all competitions - but he is fast learning that it is the manner in which Madrid play which is almost as important as the results and the consensus in the Spanish capital is that Solari will not still be manager next season.

Los Blancos have been beaten by three or more goals on four separate occasions already this season - including against the likes of Eibar and CSKA Moscow - so they are prone to the occasional dreadful performance, which would result in elimination should it occur in this competition.

Despite all of that, though, Madrid sit only five points off the top in what has been a remarkable La Liga season so far, so they remain in the race for all four trophies still available to them this season.

The 13-time champions of Europe have also never lost a game inside normal time in this competition, although their inaugural appearance saw them settle for fourth after finishing second in their group and then suffering a penalty shootout defeat in the third-place playoff.

Recent form: WWWWLW


Team News

Real Madrid midfielder Isco celebrates scoring during his side's Champions League clash with Roma on September 19, 2018© Reuters

Real Madrid have named a strong squad for this tournament, but there remain doubts over a few key players.

Casemiro is nearing his return from an ankle problem but may be held back for the final should Madrid get there, while Gareth Bale missed the weekend win over Rayo with a similar issue.

Isco was booed by his own fans during the recent defeat to CSKA and has been out of favour under Solari so far, so he may also be limited to a watching brief for the most part.

Solari could use the tournament to hand further first-team experience to Vinicius Junior, and the semi-final in particular could be a good opportunity to rest the likes of Karim Benzema and Luka Modric.

Kashima, meanwhile, have no new injury concerns from the win over Guadalajara and could be unchanged for this match, although match-winner Abe will be hoping to have earned a start.

Kento Misao, Yukitoshi Ito, Itsuki Oda, Atsutaka Nakamura and Yuma Suzuki all remain sidelined.

Kashima possible starting lineup:
Kwoun; Uchida, Jung, Shoji, Yamamoto; Endo, Nagaki, Leo Silva, Leandro; Doi, Serginho

Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Ceballos, Llorente, Kroos; Bale, Vinicius Asensio


Head To Head

The only previous meeting between these two sides came two years and one day ago, with Real Madrid needing extra time to run out 4-2 winners in the final of this competition.


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We say: Kashima Antlers 1-2 Real Madrid

Madrid are so unpredictable at the moment that they could easily lose this game, but we have to back the superior quality and there is no doubt that the Spanish outfit still possess that, despite their shaky form.


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Who will progress from Wednesday's Club World Cup semi-final between Kashima Antlers and Real Madrid?

Kashima Antlers
Real Madrid
Kashima Antlers
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76.9%
Vinicius Junior celebrates the own goal during the La Liga game between Real Madrid and Real Valladolid on November 3, 2018
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TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City27212474205465
2Liverpool26205159154465
3Tottenham HotspurSpurs26200654252960
4Manchester UnitedMan Utd26156552351751
5Arsenal26155653371650
6Chelsea26155645291650
7Wolverhampton WanderersWolves2611693433139
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10West Ham UnitedWest Ham2696113239-733
11Bournemouth26103133747-1033
12Leicester CityLeicester2695123134-332
13Crystal Palace2676132734-727
14Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton2676132839-1127
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16Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2667132234-1225
17Cardiff CityCardiff2674152447-2325
18Southampton2659122844-1624
19Fulham2645172558-3317
20Huddersfield TownHuddersfield2625191448-3411

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