Kashima gain advantage over Persepolis in AFC Champions League final

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Reporting from Kashima, Japan

Kashima Antlers have one hand on the the 2018 AFC Champions League title after beating Persepolis 2-0 in Saturday’s final first leg.

Following a goalless first half at the Kashima Soccer Stadium, Leo Silva opened the scoring for the hosts two minutes before the hour mark, before Serginho made it 2-0 12 minutes later to seal a potentially-pivotal victory.

Both teams meet again next Saturday at the Azadi Stadium where the Antlers can expect a hostile atmosphere, although they will take heart in not only being in possession of a two-goal cushion but having not conceded an away goal.

Despite many expecting them to adopt a conservative approach as the away side, Persepolis began the game showing plenty of adventure and created the better openings early on.

Ali Alipour had a golden opportunity after just four minutes when he was left unmarked inside the box but his goal-bound shot was bravely blocked by Jung Seung-hyun with his face, before Ahmad Nourollahi went straight for goal two minutes later with a freekick from the left and forced Kashima goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae to tip over.

Gradually, the game settled into what had been expected, with the hosts enjoying the dominant share of possession while Persepolis looked to hit on the counter.

Antlers fired away their first real warning shot in the 25th minute when Yuma Suzuki pounced on Daigo Nishi’s flick-on and sent a ferocious first-time effort from a tight angle flashing dangerously across the face of goal.

A minute after the half-hour mark, another chance fell their way after an incisive Shoma Doi pass released Serginho, but Shoja’ Khalilzadeh produced a great recovering tackle to deny the Brazilian.

But, in the 58th minute, the deadlock was finally broken through a clinical strike by Silva, who exchanged passes with Doi on the edge of the box before perfectly guiding a left-footed shot into the bottom corner beyond Alireza Beiranvand’s reach.

Right on the hour mark, the hosts looked to have doubled their tally when Suzuki raced through to score after appearing to be the offside trap, only for the strike to be chalked off by the linesman’s flag.

However, there was to be no denying Kashima a second goal in the 70th minute as they capitalised after Persepolis failed to clear their lines.

Pouncing on a loose ball outside the area, Kento Misao resisted the urge to blaze away and instead helped the ball on into the danger zone, where it fell kindly for Serginho to finish past Beiranvand and hand the Antlers a healthy advantage ahead of the second leg in a week’s time.

Adding insult to injury, Persepolis will have to do without Siamak Nemati in that game as he was sent off in the dying moments of the contest, losing his cool and picking up a second booking to earn an automatic suspension.

KASHIMA ANTLERS: Kwoun Sun-tae, Daigo Nishi, Jung Seung-hyun, Gen Shoji, Shuto Yamamoto, Shoma Doi (Ryota Nagaki 80’), Kento Misao, Leo Silva, Hiroki Abe (Koki Anzai 68’), Serginho (Takeshi Kanamori 90+1′), Yuma Suzuki. 

PERSEPOLIS: Alireza Beiranvand, Shoja’ Khalilzadeh, Jalal Hosseini, Mohammad Ansari, Shayan Mosleh, Kamal Kamyabinia, Siamak Nemati, Bashar Resan, Ahmad Nourollahi (Omid Alishah 70’), Ali Alipour, Godwin Mensha.