Back at the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens for a third time and second successive year, Japan’s Kashima Antlers were impressive in 2016, reaching the last eight before elimination at the hands of eventual winners Aston Villa.
Kashima were already Japan’s most successful club by a long way before they enjoyed the best year in their history in 2016. After winning a record eighth J.League crown as well as a fifth Emperor’s Cup, Kashima went on to oust Colombia’s Atletico Nacional in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup to become Asia’s first representatives in the final.
And after taking a 2-1 lead against Real Madrid in the final, it took a Ronaldo-inspired performance to rescue the Spaniards and claim a 4-2 victory after extra time.
Club legend Mitsuo Ogasawara has been at Kashima since his teenage years, making his debut back in 2008 before going on to lift the 2004 AFC Asian Cup with Japan and appear at both the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups.
Kashima have a reputation for producing future internationals with Gaku Shibasaki – who scored both goals against Madrid – and Atsuto Uchida both going on to earn moves to Europe with Spanish side Tenerife and German side Schalke respectively.
The Japanese club have reached the quarter-finals on both their previous visits to Hong Kong and, if their young squad boasts anything like the talent of those before them, they may well advance further in 2017.