Once again, Auckland City FC made the impossible seem possible.

They didn't get the result in their Club World Cup playoff match on Thursday night - going down 2-1 to the Kashima Antlers - but came a lot closer than most people imagined.

Their performance won't rank alongside the heroics of 2009 and 2014, when they won multiple games at Fifa's flagship club competition, but Thursday's display deserves its own special mention.

In a normal world, the gulf between the Japanese champions - the best team from the best league in Asia - and a Stirling Sports Premiership side would be insurmountable.

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But somehow, Auckland City managed it. Their tactical organisation, collective approach, work rate and mental application was top drawer, as they proved that with a thorough preparation and strong self belief it's possible to compete at that level.

After a solid first half, they took the lead in the 49th minute, with a well executed Daewook Kim header from a free kick. The goal shocked the Antlers, who brought on their two top strikers soon afterwards.

The end result was fair on the balance of play, as Kashima created the best opportunities, especially in the final 25 minutes. But Auckland City will also ponder what might have been, in a game of such fine margins. Both goals they conceded were comparatively poor by their standards, with the defence guilty of ball watching for the first and hesitation for the second.

But the Sandringham-based club will take pride from their display. They pushed Kashima to the limit, and started to frustrate the Japanese champions in the second half, as they held the lead for almost 20 minutes. One of the high points was just before the hour mark, when Auckland City were ahead on the scoreboard and knitted together several intricate triangles in possession, as they grew in confidence and the game began to open up.

The best summary of their performance came from veteran Fifa commentator John Helm, as he pondered an improbable upset midway through the second half.

"One thing about Auckland - they will be calm," said Helm. "They play as a unit. Everybody defends, and everybody attacks when they can."