Kashima Antlers hold off Persepolis to win AFC Champions League 2018

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Kashima Antlers have won the AFC Champions League for the first time in their history after a 0-0 draw with Persepolis in Saturday’s second leg saw them win the final 2-0 on aggregate.

Having claimed an impressive 2-0 win on home soil a week earlier, Kashima entered the return encounter at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran with one hand already on the trophy.

However, they were coming up against a Persepolis that had not suffered a home defeat in the Champions League since May 2012 and were also buoyed by a boisterous home crowd, which should set a new tournament attendance record by comfortably bettering the previous highest tally of 63,763 set in the 2014 decider between Al Hilal and Western Sydney Wanderers.

Surprisingly, the visitors opted against sitting back and defending their lead from the opening whistle and actually showed good initiative going forward in the early exchanges.

They fired away their first warning shot in the 14th minute when Yuma Suzuki peeled away from his marker on the left and crossed to Shoma Doi, who flashed a shot dangerously across the face of goal.

Meanwhile, while they enjoyed plenty of possession, Persepolis failed to really trouble a Kashima backline that was led supremely by centre-backs Gen Shoji and Jung Seung-hyun.

Bashar Resan was one of the few bright sparks for Persepolis.

It took until the 39th minute before they really gave their opponents a scare when Bashar Resan embarked on a terrific run straight at the heart of the Antlers defence, but could only fire straight at Kwoun Sun-tae having left himself with too acute an angle.

Ahmad Nourollahi was next to threaten three minutes later with a 20-yard piledriver that stung the hands of Kwoun, before Ali Alipour pounced on a weak clearance on the edge of the box four minutes after the hour mark and instinctively fired away a snapshot that was not too far away.

Leo Silva keeps a close eye on Godwin Mensha.

But, with Nigerian target man Godwin Mensha struggling to get into the contest and Alipour limited to half-chances, Persepolis never really gave the Japanese visitors anything to worry about.

And, as the game entered its closing stages, Kashima were just able to tighten things up and see out the remainder of the contest to become champions of Asia and make it two Japanese winners in as many years following the success of Urawa Red Diamonds in 2017.

PERSEPOLIS: Alireza Beiranvand, Shoja’ Khalilzadeh, Jalal Hosseini, Mohammad Ansari (Ehsan Alvanzadeh 69′), Shayan Mosleh, Kamal Kamyabinia, Adam Hemati (Mohsen Rabiekhah 64′), Ahmad Nourollahi, Bashar Resan, Godwin Mensha, Ali Alipour.

KASHIMA ANTLERS: Kwoun Sun-tae, Daigo Nishi, Jung Seung-hyun, Gen Shoji, Shuto Yamamoto, Shoma Doi (Koki Anzai 68′), Kento Misao, Leo Silva, Hiroki Abe (Takeshi Kanamori 90+3′), Serginho, Yuma Suzuki (Ryota Nagaki 78′).

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