Kashima Antlers defender Gen Shoji emphasised the need for his side to get off to a bright start in Tuesday’s AFC Champions League opene.
The reigning MEIJI YASUDA J.League champions and 2016 FIFA Club World Cup runners-up will travel near and far in this year’s tournament after being grouped with South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai, Thailand’s Muangthong United, and Australia’s Brisbane Roar.
“Two years ago we opened with a loss to Western Sydney Wanderers and things didn’t go as planned,” Shoji reflected on the team’s last place Group H finish in 2015.
“In last year’s J.League we won the First Stage opener against Gamba Osaka and did very well, but we lost to them in the Second Stage opener and struggled. The same thing happened in the Levain Cup, and we all know just how important that first match is.
“[The 2015 ACL] taught us how difficult the group stage is, and we know that we have to play strongly as a team, not just as individuals.
“Of course we want all four Japanese clubs to get to the knockout round, but in the end we want to get back to the Club World Cup and finish what we started last year.”
Antlers’ curtain-raiser against Ulsan kicks off at 19:00 JST on Tuesday at Kashima Stadium.