Persepolis to meet Kashima Antlers in ACL final

Kashima Antlers

Tehran Times - Persepolis football team will face Kashima Antlers in the 2018 AFC Champions League final, after coming back from two goals down to salvage a 3-3 draw with Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the second leg of the semi-finals, and progress with a 6-5 aggregate win.

Shuto Yamamoto opened the scoring for Kashima on a roller-coaster night at the Suwon World Cup Stadium, before three Suwon goals in nine second half minutes from Im Sang-Hyeob, Jo Sung-Jin, and Dejan Damjanovic spun the tie on its head.

Daigo Nishi then pulled one back for Kashima to make it all square on away goals, before Serginho slammed home late on to send his side into November’s showpiece against Persepolis from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Kashima came into the second leg with a narrow one-goal lead after coming from two goals down to win the first leg 3-2 on October 3, and they started the brighter of the two as they looked to consolidate that advantage with an away goal of their own.

Serginho, who had scored in all three of his 2018 AFC Champions League games coming into this tie, arrowed an overhead kick wide in the eighth minute before sending in a free kick that Gen Shoji headed off target two minutes later.

Yuma Suzuki and Koki Anzai also failed to capitalize on opportunities as Kashima bossed the opening exchanges, before Yamamoto finally made the breakthrough in the 25th minute, sneaking in at the near post and heading home another fine Serginho delivery from a set piece wide on the right.

Suwon came out all guns blazing at the start of the second half and pulled level in the 52nd minute, when Im tucked home a close-range rebound after Kashima custodian Kwoun Sun-tae had pulled off a sensational save from a Yeom Ki-Hun header.

Kim Jun-hyoung immediately stung Kwoun’s fingertips with a vicious drive from outside the area a minute later as Suwon seized the initiative, and Jo (pictured above) powered home a header from the resultant corner to put the hosts 2-1 up on the night and back in front on away goals.

Jo nearly scored again five minutes later, drawing another top class save from Kwoun - who was steadily becoming the busier of the two goalkeepers - before Damjanovic broke in behind and shrugged off the challenge of Shoji before slotting home and making it 3-1 on the hour mark.

Elvis Saric almost put the game beyond Kashima a further two minutes later but saw his effort squeeze agonizingly wide of the post, and he was made to pay for that miss in the 64th minute when Nishi clipped a sweet strike with the outside of his right boot that Shin Hwa-Yong could only tip onto the post before it bounced over the line.

That set the stage for Serginho to make it four goals from four appearances in this year’s competition with eight minutes to play, as he lashed home a loose ball in the area after Suwon failed to properly clear a Nishi throw-in.

Kashima will now welcome Persepolis to Kashima Soccer Stadium in the first leg of the final on November 3, before travelling to Tehran for the second leg a week later as both sides look to lift the coveted AFC Champions League trophy for the first time in their history.

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