AFC Champions League: Persepolis’ dream still not over despite 2-0 defeat to Kashima Antlers

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The first leg of the 2018 AFC Champions League final did not go according to plans for Iran’s Persepolis FC as J-League side Kashima Antlers registered a 2-0 victory at the Kashima Soccer Stadium on Saturday. However, Persepolis’ dream of becoming the Asian champions might not be over yet. We look at the three reasons why the Iranians are still not out of the competition. 

1. Persepolis’ record at the Azadi Stadium in Asia has been excellent

Branko Ivankovic’s men have already displayed that they have what it takes to reverse a first-leg deficit in the 2018 AFC Champions League. The Red Army’s grit and determination were evident in their comeback victories over Abu Dhabi’s Al Jazira and Qatar’s Al Duhail in the knockout stages of this competition earlier this season.

In the Round of 16 encounter against Al Jazira at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, Persepolis were stunned by a 96th-minute goal by Khalifa Al-Hammadi that tipped the tie in favour of the Emiratis 3-2. But Ahmad Nourollahi and Seyyed Hosseini scored in the second leg at the Azadi to win it 4-4 on away goals.

In the quarterfinal too, they lost the first leg to Qatar’s Al Duhail 1-0 but scored three goals in front of the 80,000-plus fans at Tehran to make the last four. And no one can put it past the Iran champions to go out and do the same against the Japanese side when they travel to Iran with two goals to protect coming Saturday.

2. The 90,000 who will turn up in Tehran will be their 12th man

Though the official capacity of the Azadi Stadium is set at 80,000, there is no doubting a whole lot more people than that estimate will turn up for the second leg of the ACL final on November 10. This is the first time that their club will be playing in the final of the Asian continental championship and the red half of Tehran will want to see no less than their team getting their hands on that coveted trophy.

The fact that the side is trailing 2-0 and midfielder Siamak Nemati will miss the fixture after being sent off for a second yellow card will not make things any easy for the Persian Gulf Pro League outfit. But, the atmosphere the fans of the Tehran club creates is one of the most intimidating in the world and it wouldn’t be anything like Kashima have seen in stadiums across Japan.

3. They were more than a match in the first leg, despite the scoreline

Though the scoreline read 2-0 to Kashima as the visitors finished the game with 10 men, the first leg wasn’t a one-sided affair – far from it. Persepolis had seven shots at goal compared to eight from the home side Antlers. The shots which were on target were even with two apiece — proof that the full-time score did not do justice to the Iranian club.

The teams fought neck-and-neck in the opening 45, but Persepolis will rue their finishing as Kashima’s Brazilians did all the damage to them eventually. It was Leo Silva who opened the scoring in the 58th minute before Serginho made it 2-0 12 minutes later giving them a healthy advantage to take to Tehran.

The Iranians looked for an all-important away goal which never came. But rest assured, Ivankovic will get the Persepolis players pumped up for the second leg come the weekend and that coupled with the vociferous support at the Azadi Stadium might just be the medicine the home time will want to pull off a miraculous comeback and write their names into the history of Asian and world football!

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