Atsuto Uchida eyes ACL title after returning from Bundesliga

TOP 5: Outstanding performers from the AFC Champions League Ro16 west zone

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Winning the AFC Champions League this season is just one of the goals Kashima Antlers right-back Atsuto Uchida has set for himself after returning from a successful spell in the Bundesliga.

Having started his career at Kashima, Uchida was only 22 when moved to Germany and went to have a successful time at Schalke, spending much time as their first-choice right-back as they reached the knockout round of the UEFA Champions League four of his seven seasons there – including the semi-finals in 2010/11.

His final two years at the Veltins-Arena were however hampered by injury and, following a brief stint with Union Berlin, Japan international Uchida decided on a return to Kashima at the start of this year.

His homecoming has been steady thus far and, although the Antlers are currently 8th in the J1 League, they have enjoyed more success on the continental stage and – at present – lead Tianjin Quanjian 2-0 in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League, with the second leg to take place next Tuesday.

Having also been involved on the only previous occasion that Kashima got this far – back in 2008 where they eventually lost to Adelaide United – Uchida is determined to go all the way this time around.

“For Japan, Urawa Red Diamonds and Gamba Osaka have won the title, and I can say that I feel a sense of regret that Kashima haven’t been champions,” the 30-year-old said on the Asian Football Confederation’s official website.

“Now I’m back from Germany, I’m aiming to win every title.

“In Asia, we haven’t been able to achieve success playing against clubs from other countries yet, but I’m looking forward to doing battle again.”

Kashima’s run in the ACL this year – which has seen them qualify from a group also including Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Sydney FC and Shanghai Shenhua before seeing off Shanghai SIPG in the Round of 16 – has taken many by surprise.

Part of this could stem from the fact that, unlike many of Asia’s leading sides, the Antlers do not have any high-profile imports or even many standout individuals.

Nonetheless, a key strength of theirs has been their ability to function as a team to perfection and Uchida believes the future bodes well for Kashima.

“This year, there are a lot of young players who each have their individual strong points,” he added.

“Ten years ago, the team as a whole had more experience, was maybe more competent and solid, but this year – while we have had a few ups and downs – I feel like we have a lot of players with potential.

“Young players give their best, even when there’s a tight schedule, and now as the pressure builds as we progress in the AFC Champions League, it’s important we show our strength.

“This [winning the Champions League] is what we are aiming for, but every team is playing with the same intention.

“Several of the teams we’ve played against so far have really special foreign players and are spending a lot of money, and from now on too we will have to face those kind of teams.

“Kashima is the only team left from the J.League and so we have to represent Japan and go toe-to-toe with those teams.”