Japan’s Kashima Antlers players warm up during a training session at the Khalifa Bin Zayed stadium in Al Ain. Image Credit: AP

Al Ain: Guadalajara coach Jose Cardozo said his side’s Mexican-only hiring policy won’t stand in the way of their Fifa Club World Cup ambitions ahead of their debut against Japan’s Kashima Antlers on Saturday.

The inability to pick foreigners would worry most coaches heading into a major international event where every other side has no limit, but Cardozo was unfazed.

“This team can play against anyone and we have shown that,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to show Mexican talent. “Maybe foreign players might be better, but we believe in Mexican players and on Saturday they will show what being a Mexican player means.”

Making things even harder is the fact that their opponents for Saturday’s quarter-final in Al Ain from 5 pm took Real Madrid to extra-time before a 4-2 defeat in 2016 final.

“That was two years ago and some of the players aren’t there anymore,” added Cardozo. On top of that, despite a Mexican side having qualified for all 15 editions of the Club World Cup — with more appearances than any other country — none of their teams have ever made the final.

Why haven’t they succeeded? “You should have asked that to the other Mexican teams who have participated before, we start our dream tomorrow, so I can reply to you only tomorrow.”

Whoever wins this game will meet Real Madrid in Wednesday’s semi-final, an opponent Kashima know only too well — having faced them on their debut two years ago.

“The last competition with Real, we had a very good experience,” said Antlers coach Go Oiwa. “This time we are preparing ourselves to win and we are looking forward to meeting Real Madrid again in the next match.”

Nine of Kashima’s 23-man squad that held Real beyond 90 minutes in 2016 remain two years on. That would have been eleven if not for injuries to striker Yuma Suzuki and midfielder Kento Misao. The man who scored both goals against Real, Gaku Shibasaki, is now with Spain’s Getafe.

“Suzuki and Misao are not present tomorrow and that’s very hard but this is the situation,” said Oiwa. “We will do our best and have the feeling to fight against Guadalajara tomorrow.”

Antlers defender Gen Shoji, who played for Japan in this summer’s World Cup, added: “It’s a bad situation without these two, they are very good players, we know that they are not there but we have other players and they are good also, they will also take care of play.”

Guadalajara defender Jair Pereira also waved off worries about his side’s Mexican-only hiring policy in the face of a depleted Kashima.

“Chivas has always made news because of this policy, but they can show Mexican football to the world,” he said. “Mexican footballers can do great things as long as they have focus.

“The coach trusts us and knows that we can play against anybody. We have very good strikers that can change the match, and if we focus we can play on equal terms against anyone.

“We make our own history, so whatever Mexican teams have done in the past is not our responsibility. We think about ourselves and we are ready to compete.”