Kashima Antlers beat Ulsan Hyundai 2-0 in their opening fixture of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday.
This match-up saw the champions of Japan take on an Ulsan side that finished fourth in last year’s K-League.
Kashima have been tipped to go all the way this year as they have a settled group of players who have played with each other for a considerable period of time now and who have been successful too.
Masatada Ishii is their first local manager since 1999 and he has really been able to connect with his players and make the Kashima Soccer Stadium something of a fortress.
All things considered, this was always going to be a tough task for a travelling Ulsan side and so it proved.
— Kashima Antlers (@atlrs_english) February 21, 2017
The opening thirty minutes passed without incident however on the half-hour mark Kashima goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae tipped countryman Jeong Jae-yong’s goalbound header onto the post. It was a fantastic save that showcased his athleticism as much as it did his dexterity.
Han Seung-gyu then went close again for Ulsan after half-time as he struck the woodwork from all of 40 yards with a thumping effort.
However Kashima found their groove shortly after that and began pressing for the opener.
And it finally came after 64 minutes as Mu Kanazaki rose highest to powerfully head home captain Ryota Nagaki’s corner from the left.
With eight minutes remaining the points were wrapped up when Kashima’s striker, Yuma Suzuki, found the back of the net from a narrow angle.
The result was a fair one in the end. However, Ulsan will take great heart from their resistance in the first hour of play.
The win means Kashima take an early lead at the top of the standings after Australia’s Brisbane Roar and Muangthong United of Thailand played out a scoreless stalemate in Tuesday’s other Group E encounter.