Kashima Antlers: Get to know Newcastle Jets’ next ACL opponents

Newcastle Jets are just 90 minutes away from the group stage of the 2019 AFC Champions League.

But standing in their way and this year’s ACL is the competition’s defending champions, Kashima Antlers of Japan.

In one of the biggest matches in the club’s history, the Jets’ 18-man squad has touched down in Japan for Tuesday night’s must-win clash.

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Here’s what you need to know about the J-League outfit.

Their path to the ACL

Despite claiming the 2018 edition of the AFC Champions League with a victory over Iranian side Persepolis, it wasn’t a straightforward entry into this year’s edition of the competition for the Antlers.

They finished third in the J-League last season, which is usually enough to earn direct entry into the Group Stage.

However, due to Urawa Red Diamonds’ triumph in the Emperors’ Cup from fifth place, they claimed the third and final Japanese spot in the Group Stage and Kashima were pushed to the Play-Off round.

Much like how the Jets finished second in the Hyundai A-League last season, the Grand Final defeat against Melbourne Victory saw the Big V take Australia’s second automatic spot in the Group Stage.

Kashima’s star players

The Antlers squad is a strong one, made up primarily of Japanese players as is the case throughout the J-League due to their restrictions on foreign players.

Atsuto Uchida is a name which may be familiar to Australian football fans - the fullback boasts more than 70 appearances for the Japanese national team.

There are seven foreigners amongst the Antlers' ranks – five Brazillians and two from Korea Republic.

Goalkeeper Kuon Son-Tae is a veteran of the game. He’s played six games for the national team, was named in the K-League Team of the Year three times while playing with Jeonbuk Motors and boasts three AFC Champions League medals.

Striker, Yuma Suzuki, is one man who the Jets will want to keep a close eye on. The 22-year-old has scored 27 goals in 97 appearances for Kashima and was named the AFC Champions League 2018 Best Player.

Kashima's Uchida
Kashima's Uchida

Their recent form

As with most teams throughout Asia, the Antlers are currently in the midst of pre-season ahead of their J-League campaign which kicks off next weekend.

Their last competitive fixtures were at the FIFA Club World Cup, where they faced Real Madrid, Mexican side Guadalajara and Argentina’s River Plate.

Last Tuesday night, the Antlers took on J-League 2 side Mito Hollyhock in a pre-season friendly where they emerged 1-0 victors.