Kashima Antlers celebrate after their victory over Guadalajara Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Al Ain: Japan’s Kashima Antlers fought back from an early goal down to beat Mexico’s Guadalajara 3-2 in the Fifa Club World Cup quarter-finals at Al Ain’s Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Saturday.

Second-half strikes from Ryota Nagaki, Serginho and Hiroki Abe cancelled out Angel Zaldivar’s early first half opener, before a late penalty by Alan Pulido set things up for a tense finale.

It sets the Asian champions up for a Club World Cup reunion with Spain’s Real Madrid in Wednesday’s semi-final at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi from 8.30pm.

The Antlers famously met Real in Japan in 2016, when, on their event debut, they not only became the first Asian side to make the final, but also took the European champions beyond 90 minutes, before losing 4-2 in extra-time.

Because of that outing, Kashima had been the favourites heading into this contest against a debutant side in Guadalajara, who were also expected to be limited by their Mexican-only hiring policy — especially when playing international sides that have no constraints on their imports.

There were doubts early on however, especially after Guadalajara’s quick goal, and also because only nine of Kashima’s squad that faced Real two years ago remained in this side.

That number would have 11 if not for injuries to striker Yuma Suzuki and midfielder Kento Misao heading into this tournament, and those absences were starting to show.

Two years suddenly seemed like a lifetime ago as the Antlers got off to the worst possible start when Guadalajara’s Angel Zaldivar headed in Isaac Brizuela’s cross for an easy opener on three minutes.

Orbelin Pineda then hit the crossbar with a shot from just outside the area before the break. That ended a half that had failed to live up to how it started.

Kashima equalised just after the interval when Ryota Nagaki tapped in Shoma Doi’s pass across goal on 49 minutes, following a quick bursting counter-attack.

The Antlers then pulled in front via a penalty into the bottom left corner on 69 minutes from Serginho after Michael Perez tripped Doi in the box.

Hiroki Abe appeared to put the contest beyond doubt by curling in a quick pass from the corner of the area by Koki Anzai on 84 minutes.

However, on 93 minutes Kashima’s Shuto Yamamoto took down Jair Pereira in the box, and Pulido followed up on an initial penalty save to grab a consolation that preceded a very nervous last minute of injury-time as the Mexicans battled for survival.