Kashima Antlers manager Go Oiwa says winning the Asian Champions League trumps his side’s memorable 2016 Fifa Club World Cup final clash with Real Madrid, as they booked a return to the tournament, and a potential rematch with the Spanish giants, in the UAE next month.
The Japanese club were crowned Asian champions on Saturday for the first time, holding Iran’s Persepolis to a 0-0 draw in the second leg in Tehran to take the tie 2-0 on aggregate.
Kashima have now the Club World Cup to look forward to, when they take on Mexico’s Guadalajara in the quarter-final in Al Ain on December 15. Should they get through that, Kashima will have the chance to exact revenge against Madrid – the defending champions wait in the last four, in Abu Dhabi, on December 19.
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The two sides met in 2016, where Kashima pushed Madrid all the way in the final as the host representatives in Japan, eventually losing in extra-time. Cristiano Ronaldo struck a hat-trick to set up the first of Real's successive Club World Cup successes.
However, Oiwa declared Kashima's first Asian triumph, their 20th major trophy in all, topped even that remarkable night in Yokohama two years ago.
"I am so proud that we have won the Asian Champions League title for the first time,” he told the AFC's official website. “We played Real Madrid in the final of the Fifa Club World Cup two years go, but for me, tonight is more satisfying because we won the title.
"The name of Kashima Antlers will now echo throughout Asia."
Oiwa paid tribute to Persepolis, who could never break down their obdurate opponents in front of 100,000 fans at a creaking Azadi Stadium – a record for the Champions League final.
"Persepolis were the strongest team we played in the Asian Champions League this year,” he said. “It is not just the team and tactics, but their fans, too, who were magnificent.
"I said [on Friday] that our aim was to win in the Azadi Stadium, but we all saw how difficult it is to play Persepolis in their home ground. I wish them all the best."
Like Kashima, Persepolis were seeking their first Asian crown, but could not reverse the damage done in the first leg in Japan last week.
"I am so proud of my players, they tried so hard and put all their energy into the match. They are winners," manager Branko Ivankovic said. "I am also so proud of the great atmosphere: the Persepolis fans showed they are the best and we appreciate them.
"I am sorry we couldn't be Asian champions, but this was our first major Asian final and we came very close. We may have lost, but this is an incentive to do better in the future. We now have the experience of having played at this level and we will improve."
The Club World Cup runs from December 12 to 22 and will also feature New Zealand's Team Wellington, Tunisia's Esperance and UAE champions Al Ain, the host representatives. The final remaining slot will be taken by either Boca Juniors or River Plate, with the two Argentine clubs contesting the Copa Libertadores showpiece this month.