Real Madrid will kick off the defence of their FIFA Club World Cup crown when they take on Kashima Antlers in the semi-final on Wednesday evening.

The FIFA Club World Cup has reached its penultimate stage, and that means the winners of the UEFA Champions League begin their campaign. Indeed, the second semi-final of the competition will bear witness to Real Madrid taking on Kashima Antlers at the Sheikh Zayed Sports City on Wednesday.

Kashima Antlers have already played once in the competition, narrowly beating CONCACAF champions Guadalajara 3-2 on Saturday. The quarter-final win saw them overturn a two-game winless run heading into the tournament, which included their ouster from the Emperor’s Cup earlier this month.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, have become familiar faces at the FIFA Club World Cup, having won three of the last four editions of the tournament. But, Santiago Solari’s men will be hoping to avoid another outing wherein they switch off completely, as has become a habit for them this season, like in their 3-0 loss to CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Champions League last week.

The two sides last faced off in the FIFA Club World Cup final two years ago, with Real Madrid beating Kashima Antlers 4-2 after extra time to win the competition for the second time. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Kashima Antlers

Kashima Antlers progressed to the semi-finals by beating Guadalajara. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Kashima Antlers progressed to the semi-finals by beating Guadalajara. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Go Oiwa has no fresh injury concerns heading into the big FIFA Club World Cup semi-final tie against Real Madrid. The Kashima Antlers boss thus, remains without five first-team players, with the likes of Yukitoshi Ito, Atsutaka Nakamura, Kento Misao, Itsuki Oda and Yuma Suzuki not with the squad in the UAE.

Oiwa is unlikely to make many shuffles to the side that beat Guadalajara, although match winner Hiroki Abe will hope to have done enough to earn a recall to the side. Should he indeed be brought back, the teenage prodigy will replace Leandro on the left side of the Kashima Antlers midfield.

On the opposite flank, Yasushi Endo has been a mainstay for the J1 League outfit, and the Japanese duo will hope to use their pace to good effect when up against the likes of Dani Carvajal and Marcelo on Wednesday.

Upfront, Oiwa has preferred using attacking midfield duo Shoma Doi and Serginho lately, especially with the clinical touch of star striker Yuma Suzuki missing. The front men will look to combine with Abe and Endo in a fluid manner, while also looking to fall deep in order to pull the Real Madrid centre-backs out of position at times.

Defence though, poses a bit of a problem for Oiwa, with Gen Shoji and Seung-hyeon Jung proving to be suspect at the back. The Kashima Antlers centre-backs will bank on support from their respective full-backs, Atsuto Uchida and Shuto Yamamoto so as to contain a misfiring, albeit dangerous Real Madrid attack.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Kwoun; Uchida, Jung, Shoji, Yamamoto; Endo, Nagaki, Leo Silva, Abe; Doi, Serginho

Kashima Antlers

Real Madrid

Santiago Solari has picked a full-strength squad to travel to the UAE for the FIFA Club World Cup, although he is still sweating over the fitness of a few key men. The likes of Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, Karim Benzema and Casemiro have been dealing with their respective problems, with only Casemiro managing a full training session on Monday.

On Tuesday, however, Bale, Asensio and Benzema were part of the first-team training as well, which are promising signs ahead of the semi-final against Kashima Antlers. In particular, Benzema’s availability will be key, especially with the Frenchman being Real Madrid’s top scorer this season.

Additionally, with Mariano Diaz still not fully fit, Benzema is likely to start upfront for Los Blancos. Bale should be a part of the starting lineup as well, but the final spot in attack could be given to Vinicius Junior, who has largely impressed whenever he has been handed a rare opportunity.

In midfield, Luka Modric has shown promising signs of late and should be the chief playmaker for Real Madrid. Marcos Llorente will hold the fort in front of the defence, allowing Casemiro some more time to full recover. Toni Kroos is also likely to start, having fully recovered from his knee injury.

At the back, Solari has no concerns whatsoever, meaning he is expected to name his strongest defensive line, comprising of Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo. In goal, however, Keylor Navas could get a rare chance ahead of Thibaut Courtois.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Llorente, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Vinicius Junior

Real Madrid

Key Stats

  • Wednesday’s semi-final tie will be the second meeting between Kashima Antlers and Real Madrid. The two sides had last met in the FIFA Club World Cup, with Los Blancos running out 4-2 winners.
  • Real Madrid are tied with bitter rivals Barcelona for the most FIFA Club World Cup triumphs (3).
  • The UEFA Champions League holders have won nine of the last 10 FIFA Club World Cup editions, with the only exception being Chelsea, who lost to Corinthians in 2012.
  • Real Madrid have never lost a game inside normal time in the FIFA Club World Cup.
  • Carrying a threat – Kashima Antlers have scored an average of 2.4 goals a game over the five FIFA Club World Cup matches they’ve previously contested.

Player to Watch

Vinicius Junior

Another chance to impress. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Another chance to impress. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Often, the FIFA Club World Cup has been used by the bigwigs of Europe as avenues to test some of their promising talents. Real Madrid have previously done so with Mariano Diaz, and Vinicius Junior is the latest player who could benefit from this outlook.

The Brazilian has already impressed in the few chances that have been handed to him. But, if he can play a leading role for Real Madrid against Kashima Antlers, he would have given Santiago Solari a lot to think about, especially with Marco Asensio struggling to perform at a consistent level.

Prediction

Kashima Antlers 1-2 Real Madrid

AFC outfits have seldom managed to threaten in the FIFA Club World Cup. But, in the five previous matches that they have played in the competition, Kashima Antlers have proven that they are no pushovers, even forcing the 2016 final to reach extra time before they succumbed to Real Madrid.

The AFC Champions League holders will fancy their chances on Wednesday as well, with Real Madrid stuttering at different stages of the season so far. However, with some of the players having a point or two to prove, the European heavyweights should have enough firepower to scrape through to the final.

Either way, one can expect the second semi-final to be an open affair, with plenty of chances being created on either end. In the end though, Real Madrid should prevail, if ever so narrowly.