Analysis: Kashima pressure delivers the title
Tehran: Kashima Antlers claimed their first ever AFC Champions League title at a sold out Azadi Stadium on Saturday, drawing 0-0 with Persepolis to seal a 2-0 aggregate win.
Coming into the game with a two-goal advantage enabled Kashima to play a waiting game in the second leg, and they pressed and harried for 90 minutes to see themselves crowned as kings of the continent.
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Persepolis pressed back
Persepolis made more passes (459 to 285) and had more possession (61.7 percent) here, but they struggled to make much headway in the final third.
A total 77.6 percent of the game was played in their defensive or the middle thirds of the pitch, as they found Kashima’s defence too hard to break down.
The host’s top three passing combinations best exemplify the flow of the game, with them coming between the team’s two central midfielders Kamal Kamyabinia and Bashar Resan (12), from centre-back Jalal Hosseini to right-back Shojae Khalilzadeh (12), and back to Hosseini from Khalilzadeh (10).
Suzuki selfless in attack
With 100,000 fans roaring Persepolis on, Kashima knew they couldn’t allow the hosts to build up a head of steam here, and they pressed doggedly from the outset.
The visitors didn’t manage to land any shots on target all night, but they were industrious in the final third nevertheless, with Yuma Suzuki as ever leading from the front.
The 22-year-old covered every blade of grass in the Persepolis half and contested 23 duels over the 90 minutes, winning eight of them to ensure the defenders didn’t have a moment’s peace.
Leo Silva shines in centre
Leo Silva scored the opener in the first leg of the final in Kashima and played a vital role in the return fixture as well, dovetailing superbly with Kento Misao and excelling both defensively and offensively.
The Brazilian snapped into challenges in the centre of the park as Kashima looked to prevent Persepolis finding their rhythm, recovering possession 12 times.
He was also composed and effective on the ball, achieving a 75.8 percent accuracy with his passing – rising to 79.2 percent in the Persepolis half – as well as creating one chance for a teammate.
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