J.League Chairman Mitsuru Murai was on hand to congratulate Kashima Antlers for sealing MEIJI YASUDA J1 League First Stage victory on Saturday.
Masatada Ishii’s side swept past Avispa Fukuoka 2-0 to clinch the half-season triumph ahead of Kawasaki Frontale.
And Murai hailed their winning mentality under their coach who has overseen a turn of fortunes since he took over last season, turning them into credible title challengers this term.
“I would like to congratulate Kashima Antlers on winning the 2016 MEIJI YASUDA J1 League First Stage and securing their place in the MEIJI YASUDA 2016 J.League Championship,” said Murai in a statement.
“Today’s [Saturday’s] match demonstrated the team’s tenacity, and they won the title in a very Antlers-like fashion. They won when they needed to win. In their second year under Masatada Ishii, the experienced veterans and talented youngsters cleverly worked together to bring back the legendary Antlers defence, with just 10 goals allowed.
“Their late-stage come-from-behind title win gave us a glimpse of Kashima Antlers’ famous winning mentality, and just as you’d expect the manager and players said after the game that they’re not satisfied with this accomplishment.
“From today’s result, Kashima Antlers have earned a place in the season’s climax, the J.League Championship. I’m delighted to say that MEIJI YASUDA will again serve as the tournament’s sponsor; including stage winners and the top three clubs in the overall standings, as many as five clubs will vie for the league title. I hope many people will watch up until the December 3 climax.
“Near the end of the First Stage, the crucial match between Urawa Reds and Kashima Antlers drew over 50,000 fans to Saitama Stadium.
“I hope that we can produce even bigger crowds in the second stage. Japanese clubs can no longer qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup through the AFC Champions League, but there is still a chance to face the world’s best as host representatives. I hope our players bring a high standard to the pitch.
“We are not standing by idly following the J.League’s elimination from the ACL; we are studying the gap between the J.League and the world through the basic nucleus of a professional league which includes footballing, academies, financial affairs, and stadiums.
“We are continuing to establish milestones toward the improvement of Japanese football, and the J.League and its member clubs continue to work together toward this reform.”