Osaka - Mamelodi Sundowns will face an acid test when they start their campaign in the Fifa Club World Cup against home side Kashima Antlers in the second-round match at Suita City Stadium at 12.30 South African time on Sunday.
The CAF Champions League winners will need to be mentally strong to avoid being intimidated by the hosts’ vocal fans, who are expected to pack the venue and rally behind their team.
The J League winners’ fans inspired their side to come back from a goal down and knock out Oceania Champions Auckland City from New Zealand 2-1 in their playoff round match on Thursday.
But the fact that Kashima, like Downs, are also rookies in the competition will give Pitso Mosimane’s charges confidence to beat them and progress to the semifinals, where they will meet Atlético Nacional of Colombia on Wednesday.
Ironically, the Copa Libertadores champions will be making their debut in the tournament after they qualified by virtue of being awarded a Fifa Centennial Fair Play Award. This was after they successfully lobbied the South American club to award the Copa Sudamericana trophy to Chapecoense, whom they were due to meet in the final when the plane carrying the Brazilian side crashed, killing 71 people, including their players.
The fact that Downs are already used to the cold weather conditions, having arrived on Tuesday, could work in their favour. It seems Mosimane has also done his homework as they trained at night to ensure his players are up for the challenge.
Midfielder Hlompho Kekana, winger Khama Billiat and striker Percy Tau are expected to play key roles for the Tshwane giants. But their defence will need to keep a close eye on Kashima’s Shuhei Akasaki and Mu Kanazaki, who scored goals that led to Auckland City’s exit.
There are six teams left in the 13th edition of the Club World Cup. Spanish giants Real Madrid, who are favourites to lift the trophy, having won in 2014, will start playing in the semifinals. Football experts have tipped them to be crowned the champions. Eight of the past 12 winners came from Europe.
The tournament, founded in 2000, pits seven teams from six confederations against one another: Africa, Asia, North America, South America, Oceania and Europe, plus the hosts.