Analysis: Kashima ride their luck to claim all three points
Changwon: They may be the defending champions, but Kashima Antlers recorded one of their most memorable AFC Champions League victories as they scored twice in second-half stoppage time to defeat Gyeongnam FC 3-2 in a thrilling encounter on Tuesday night.
The come-from-behind win keeps the Japanese side undefeated and on top of Group E, while Korea Republic’s Gyeongnam are still searching for their first-ever win in the AFC Champions League.
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Despite the loss it wasn’t all bad news for the home side, who generally played well and deserved their 2-0 lead.
Japanese midfielder Takahiro Kunimoto was a particular standout, at both ends of the pitch, either dropping back and setting up the play from his own half or working out in wide positions, whipping the ball into dangerous areas in the box.
In total Kunimoto made 49 passes, with a 73.5 percent success rate, with one assist (and another leading to an own goal), while he created three chances throughout the game.
If there is one player who could match Kunimoto’s impact it is Kashima’s midfield marvel, Kento Misao. The Japanese international was instrumental in the defending champions’ heroic comeback, with an impressive 63 passes at an accuracy of 84 percent.
His heat map (above) shows how active he was in the opposition half, getting most of his possession in that dangerous area, giving him options to play the ball out wide or through the middle
But he was also willing to track back and do his defensive duties when needed, with four interceptions on the night.
Serginho delivers again
It may not have been Serginho’s most prolific night, but the Brazilian was in the right place at the right time to seal the win for Kashima in the 93rd minute.
The Brazilian attacker wasn’t the most dominant player for the visitors, with only 30 passes, but like all good strikers he found himself in the right position at the right time and finished with all the skill and class we have come to expect.
Serginho has now scored in seven of the nine AFC Champions League games he has played in for Kashima since making his continental debut in the first leg of the 2018 quarter-finals. He will be key if they are to become the first side to defend the title since Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad in 2005.
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