Final - 1st Leg: Kashima Antlers 2-0 Persepolis
Kashima: Kashima Antlers struck twice in the second half to beat Persepolis 2-0 in the 2018 AFC Champions League final first leg on Saturday.
Brazilian duo Leo Silva and Serginho got the decisive goals as the J League side took control following a bright start from the Islamic Republic of Iran champions.
The first big chance fell to the visitors when a cross from the right was nodded into the path of Ali Alipour in the fourth minute. Just eight yards from goal, the striker looked certain to score but Jung Seung-hyun threw himself into the path of the shot and blocked it with his head.
Two minutes later, Ahmad Noorollahi’s free-kick from the left was tipped over by Kwoun Sun-tae as Persepolis applied early pressure.
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Kashima worked their way back into the game but the away side’s threat on the break was demonstrated when Hiroki Abe was booked for a cynical foul on Bashar Resan as the midfielder surged forward.
The hosts finally created an opening in the 25th minute as Nishi Daigo’s cushioned header found Yuma Suzuki. But the striker’s shot from a narrow angle flashed well wide of the far post.
Six minutes later, Kashima had another opportunity when a through ball from Doi Shoma put Serginho through. The Brazilian created an angle for his shot but Shoja Khaililzadeh slid in to make a vital block.
Kashima made the first chance of the second half when Abe instigated a move that ended with Serginho laying the ball back for Silva. The Brazilian tried to curl a shot into the top corner but his attempt drifted wide.
But Silva soon had reason to celebrate as he gave Kashima the lead in the 58th minute. The midfield man played a neat one-two with Shoma on the edge of the Persepolis penalty area and cut inside before curling a low left-footed shot into the corner from 18 yards.
Kashima then added their second in the 70th minute. The ball broke to Kento Misao 20 yards out and he played a deft pass into the path of Serginho on the right and the Brazilian placed his shot into the far corner from the edge of the six-yard box.
There was a further blow for Persepolis as Siamak Nemati received his second yellow card in added time and the midfielder will now miss the second leg.
Kashima Antlers are now in a very strong position to win their first AFC Champions League title when they travel to Iran for the second leg on November 10.