The last and final encounter of the AFC Champions League 2018 takes off tonight at the magnificent Azadi Stadium in Tehran, Iran. The second leg of the grand finale will take place between home side Persepolis FC and J-League heavyweights Kashima Antlers.
Both teams have worked their magic on the way to the final, and are well-deserved finalists considering the immense competition in this year’s gruelling tournament. Persepolis have reached the final of the AFC Champions League for the first time in their history, and a historic moment awaits them if they can find a way past the perennial overachievers Kashima Antlers.
The first leg of the final was an enthralling battle between the two Asian sides. However, it was the Antlers who emerged with a crucial 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Brazilian pair Leo Silva and Serginho. Heading into the second leg, the J-League side know they possess a distinct advantage.
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) November 10, 2018
But nothing is clear as day in the game of football, and a partisan crowd awaits the two teams as they enter Azadi Stadium today, and with the Iranian giants desperate to impress at their ‘fortress’, anything is possible. Persepolis are unbeaten at their home in Tehran and know that a very different game from the one in Japan could ensue on this day.
Kashima manager Go Oiwa would be smart not to tinker with a winning combination unless an unfortunate injury takes place, while Branko Ivankovic will be forced into a midfield change in his side owing to the injury time red card suffered by Siamak Nemati in the previous leg of the tie. Things didn’t go as planned for Persepolis on that particular evening, but could still end up being dramatically different on this occasion.
As for the players to watch out for, Kashima Antlers have some real firepower up front, with Yuma Suzuki ready to run the channels and get into promising positions, but the main man will certainly be Serginho.
The Brazilian scored in the first leg, just like he had in previous games for his team, and has proven lethal in front of goal. The forward is gifted in almost every department and adds some much needed South American flair to the Antlers’ style of play.
Persepolis pose a threat of their own going forward, and in Ali Alipour, possess a genuine striker capable of coming up with the goods when needed the most. Whether Alipour will have the kind of service and support he needs to score at least two goals remains an unanswered question, but his industry and goal-scoring prowess will most definitely come in handy.
After all is said and done tonight, there is no doubt that a contrast of emotions awaits us, and both teams will be hoping that they and their fans end up on the happier end of the spectrum.