Kashima Antlers manager Toninho Cerezo praised his team for their recent form as the veteran J-League side celebrated Thursday night’s 3-1 win at Kashiwa Reysol.
The J1 League Round 6 fixture took place on a weeknight to allow Antlers enough time to depart for Australia, where they will contest a crucial AFC Champions League fixture against Western Sydney Wanderers on Tuesday night.
“I think the club and especially the players didn’t imagine what playing in two tournaments would be like,” Cerezo told reporters after the match.
“It was good for us to lose [in the beginning], it was a shock for them and they woke up.”
Antlers, who hold the most trophies amongst J-League clubs, began 2015 with five straight losses between their ACL and J1 campaigns.
“Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of players who we can use and change,” said the Brazilian, who led the club to Japan’s first domestic treble in 2000. “We can’t play one team in the ACL and one team in the J-League.
“We have a lot of young players who we have to teach. When they are on the pitch, sometimes they make mistakes.
“If another player gets injured or can’t go to Sydney, we have to bring [18-year-olds Hisashi] Ohashi or [Kazune] Kubota. They’re so young, they’re not prepared to stay on the pitch. You can’t put them out there and tell them they need to come back with a win.
“That’s why when you play two tournaments, you need a big team.”
Despite the poor start, Antlers have recovered to go undefeated in five straight competitive fixtures, including a 2-1 win against Guangzhou Evergrande which kept the team in contention for a spot in the Round of 16.
“We have to keep calm, concentrate, and sometimes suffer a lot in our heart,” Cerezo reflected, “because there will be pressure and mistakes that we can’t imagine. But we’re on the right way.”
Asked about the international potential of 2014 Rookie of the Year Caio, who scored what would turn out to be the game-winner, the coach was hesitant in recommending the player’s native Brazil over a potential Japanese naturalisation.
“[Caio] has good speed, creativity, imagination, and initiative,” Cerezo responded. “He’s starting to learn how to tie his shoelaces, and then he’ll have time to grow up more.
“When he has an opportunity to decide [his future], he’ll need to trust is heart to make a good decision.”