Japan’s Kashima Antlers took a large step towards clinching their first ever AFC Champions League title after sealing a 2-0 win over Persepolis of Iran in the first-leg of the continental final.
Second-half goals from Silva and Serginho saw them put themselves in pole position to reach the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018, having enjoyed a courageous run to the final in 2016 on home soil as Japanese champions.
Both sides were enjoying their first taste of a Champions League final and Persepolis started this encounter the brighter, however, spurning a gilt-edged chance inside five minutes. Ali Alipour found himself all alone in front of goal eight yards out. However, a heroic sliding block from Jung Seunghyun prevented the home crowd from an early set-back, as Kashima weathered an early storm.
Antlers grew into the game, but it wasn’t until after the break when they broke the deadlock. A delightful exchange between Leo Silva and Doi Shoma saw the Brazilian curl into the bottom corner from the edge of the box superbly.
The vocal support had plenty more to shout about 12 minutes later as a second Brazilian found his way onto the scoresheeet in the shape of Serginho. After Persepolis failed to clear a corner sufficiently, Kento Misao flicked the ball back into the box for the midfielder to pick out the same corner from an acute angle.
“We all worked together and did everything we needed to today, but now we have to make sure we continue to keep our concentration and make sure that in the end we take the title,” Silva reflected after the game. “Our target is to win the Champions League so in order to achieve that now we all have to give all our strength to make sure we do that in the away leg.”
The sides will meet again in a week on 10 November as Persepolis will look to turn the tie on its head and prevent Kashima’s return to the Club World Cup.