Abe: We were mentally stronger than Persepolis
Kashima: Hiroki Abe credited Kashima Antlers’ calmness under pressure as the key to their 2-0 victory over the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Persepolis in the first leg of the 2018 AFC Champions League final on Saturday.
The Japanese side were put under plenty of pressure in the first half, but rode that out and made it to half-time all square.
The players then responded to head coach Go Oiwa’s demand for a more proactive approach in the second period, leaving them heading into the second leg in the ascendancy.
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“We all knew this wasn’t going to be an easy game but we had confidence that whether we were put under pressure or however the game went that we could keep our concentration and persevere, and I think we showed that here,” the 19-year-old said.
“The coach gave us the instruction [to be more attacking], and then once we got the first goal the opponent’s mood seemed to change a little and the game started to be played more at our pace. Things became a lot easier then.
“When [Persepolis] brought more of a mental game we made sure we didn’t break, and I think we were able to outdo the opponent in that respect, which also became a factor in the win.”
Abe was delighted with the balance Kashima managed to strike between attack and defence to not only double their tally but also ensure Persepolis were unable to claim an away goal.
“We knew that if we could make more chances we could score again, but we were also thinking that we absolutely couldn’t concede. In the end I think it’s fantastic we were able to add the extra goal and also make sure we didn’t concede,” he added.
The Japan U-19 international insisted Kashima won’t be daunted by the famous Azadi Stadium atmosphere in the second leg, and that they will be aiming to become champions in style with another victory.
“We will be doing exactly the same as today and heading there with the aim of winning. We’re not going to pay too much attention to the 2-0 score-line and will do as we always do and just focus on trying to beat the opponent we have in front of us. We have to play intelligently and win the game any way we can.
“As professional sports players it’s unacceptable not to play to the best of our ability in front of supporters. As players we have to show strength worthy of that stage, and I’m looking forward to it.”
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