Preview - Group E: Kashima Antlers (JPN) v Shandong Luneng FC (CHN)
Ibaraki: Defending champions Kashima Antlers must get at least a point from the visit of Group E winners Shandong Luneng should they want to avoid a premature end to their title defence on Wednesday.
A Group Stage campaign of two halves sees AFC Champions League holders Kashima Antlers in a potential precarious situation when they host Chinese Super League side Shandong Luneng at Kashima Soccer Stadium on Matchday Six.
The J.League club tallied two wins and a draw from the opening three matches in Group E, but back-to-back defeats to Gyeongnam FC and Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) now sees their Round of 16 destiny awaiting the final round of games.
A point or more in Ibaraki will, however, prove enough to join Shandong in the last 16, but defeat to their unbeaten guests would allow the victors of the tie between Gyeongnam and JDT to leapfrog them into second place.
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Notwithstanding their recent Continental slump, Kashima do come into the tie on good domestic form. Three consecutive wins in the J.League have shown positive signs, with the most recent result was a comprehensive 5-0 victory over Matsumoto Yamaga on Saturday.
Opponents Shandong are also enjoying a purple patch with just one defeat in the last seven matches in all competitions and are one of only three sides yet to lose in the 2019 AFC Champions League.
Much of their success has been due to the goals of Italian striker Graziano Pelle (6 goals) who is currently third in the leading scorers table, while Kashima will look to Brazilian midfielder Serginho (2 goals) and forward Sho Ito (2 goals) for their cutting edge.
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