JAPAN’S KASHIMA Antlers took a two-goal lead in the first leg of the AFC Champions League final, despite their coach believing they were too cautious against Iran’s Persepolis.
The Antlers, playing in their first final, had to thank their two Brazilians, Léo Silva and Serginho for giving them a two-goal advantage on November 3 in front of 35,000 people.
Go Oiwa, the Antlers’ coach, said Persepolis were aggressive and positive in their approach, but his team played too negatively. But he added that Kashima are focused on winning the trophy and won’t be intimidated by an expected 75,000 crowd in Tehran on November 10.
Kashima’s AFC Champions League run started with a group that included Suwon Samsung Bluewings of South Korea, Sydney and China’s Shanghai Shenua. They faced two more Chinese sides, the highly-fancied Shanghai SIPG, and Tianjin Quanjian in the round of 16 and quarter-finals, beating the latter 5-0 on aggregate in the last eight tie. They came face-to-face again with Bluewings in the semi-final, but emerged winners by 6-5 over the two games.
The Antlers are not in the J-League title race this season and currently sit in fifth place. Put simply, they have lost too many games – 10 in 31 fixtures. Oiwa has a team that has that classic blend of youth and experience, fronted by the charismatic young striker Yuma Suzuki, who has netted 11 goals in the J-League this season. Kashima were boosted by the arrival of the former Santos midfielder Serginho in mid-season. His goals have been important in the AFC Champions League run in recent weeks.
Founded in 1947, Kashima Antlers are backed by Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal. They have won the J-League eight times, the most recent in 2016. If they come through the second leg of the AFC Champions League final successfully, they will succeed Japanese rivals Urawa, who won the trophy in 2017.