Antlers offer hope to Japan

Just a month after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, Kashima Antlers are hoping their AFC Champions League campaign can offer a light of hope to those back at home.

Just a month after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, Kashima Antlers are hoping their AFC Champions League campaign can offer a light of hope to those back at home.

The Antlers play Sydney FC on Wednesday night with their minds barely removed from the events of March 11, when an estimated 30,000 people lost their lives. While Kashima itself escaped without major damage from the event, many of the players' families were affected.

The stricken Fukushima power plant is just 200km north of the city, while the J-League is yet to resume after being suspended following the disaster.

With the stadium damaged and off limits, captain Mitsuo Ogasawara is among many who spent the couple of weeks after the quake trying to help those in trouble.

He told an Australian newspaper this week that he helped distribute food and blankets to those affected, including his wife's family.

Midfielder Takuya Nozawa said the devastating situation back home has made it hard to focus on being a professional footballer, but following last week's 1-1 ACL draw with Suwon Bluewings, things were starting to get back to normal.

"We are here to emotionally support the people who are unable to come here as fans and by playing the game tomorrow we'd like to give hope to all the people in Japan," he said ahead of the game.

"That's what we think and that's what we share as a team so we definitely have to win tomorrow and as a team we are united and single minded, so in terms of concentration we are able to concentrate right now."

Coach Oswaldo Oliveira, a Brazilian, has had to focus on the on-field matters, knowing that a poor result on Wednesday could cost his side a chance at progressing after two away draws to start their campaign.

He knows that Sydney, who also opened their campaign with two draws, represent a tough opposition, having played against them a few years ago.

"I have seen them before two years ago and I think they have changed some players but the style is still the same. They are a very strong team in defence (and make it) difficult tactically for the opponent to score," he said.

"I think it will be for us a very difficult game and we have to fight very much to get a good result."