Preview: Kashima Antlers v Mamelodi Sundowns

Mamelodi Sundowns will have the backing of South Africa and the continent at large when they kick their FIFA Club World Cup campaign in Japan off against host team Kashima Antlers on Sunday.

The match takes place in Osaka, Japan, with the game scheduled to start at 12H30 South African time.

Kashima Antlers earned their spot in the tournament proper after beating New Zealand side Auckland City 2-1 in a play-off on Thursday.

Their coach, Masatada Ishii, admits to not knowing much about Sundowns, bar that they have 'agile forwards'.

"We only have two days' rest before Sundowns and we have not been able to really analyse them," he told the FIFA website after the play-off win.

"We will focus on the weaknesses of [Thursday’s] first-half performance and we will improve on that for the next match.

"Against Sundowns, the first five to ten minutes will be very important. So whether we press or try to kill their spaces and block, we will discuss this and we will make a game plan.

"I watched their videos and the forwards are very agile so we will try to slow them down."

This will be the first time a South African club takes part in the Club World Cup, which is reserved for the winners of the various continental club competitions, as well as a club from the hosting country.

The last and only previous time a South African team won the CAF Champions League was in 1995 when Orlando Pirates lifted the coveted trophy, but at that point the Club World Cup was not in existence.

Despite the stiff competition Downs could face in the tournament, including a possible final against European giants Real Madrid, there has been a sense of optimism not only in the Sundowns camp, but also back in South Africa as there can be no doubting the quality of the squad of players Pitso Mosimane has assembled.

Even if the Brazilians don't progress to the final, the competition will still provide a global audience for PSL stars such as Khama Billiat, Keagan Dolly, Percy Tau, Hlompho Kekana, Anthony Laffor, Sibusio Vilakazi and Leonardo Castro to showcase their talents.

Masandwana defender Wayne Arendse's pre-match comments reflect well the enormity of the occasion for Tshwane club's players.

"To be honest, I never thought I'd be here in Japan or even winning the Champions League. When I wasn't playing regularly, my mind was only focused on making the team and contributing to its success," Arendse told his club's website.

"I was working very hard and consistently put my hand up until coach [Pitso] Mosimane noticed me. Evidently it has all paid off as today I'm here, I've won the league, cups and Champions League and today I'm playing in the same tournament as Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"This is the highlight of my career playing in the world cup and I just want to make the best of it."

Billiat meanwhile says it's important for the players not to let the occasion overwhelm them.

"We are going there to give everything that we have and we are going to meet the best so we should be on top of our game and be in the right state of mind," he told KickOff.

"The more we get closer the more you get to really know that this is reality and we need to keep our nerves down because we don't want to go there and start panicking and look like we have never played or won anything before.

"We just want to go there and try to do what we have always been doing and not be carried away because it is a bigger tournament," says the Brazilians' most potent attacking threat.

Mosimane has been able to take a full strength side to Japan – the only omission being long-term injury victim Anele Ngcongca who has not played this season.

Sunday's winner will play Copa Libertadores winners Atletico Nacional of Colombia on 14 December for a place in the final on 18 December.

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