- Kashima Antlers clinched maiden AFC Champions League title
- Japanese side sealed return to FIFA Club World Cup
- Kashima now aiming to improve on runners-up finish in 2016
Kashima Antlers wrote their name into Asian football folklore by winning the AFC Champions League for the first time with a 2-0 aggregate final victory over Iran's Persepolis. By doing so, the Japanese side sealed their return to the FIFA Club World Cup at UAE 2018, having made their debut at the global finals as the host country’s representatives in 2016.
Despite their status as a J.League giant, Kashima had never got their hands on to the AFC Champions League trophy. Indeed, their best-ever campaign had been a run to the quarter-finals in 2008. But Go Oiwa's charges entered this year's competition motivated and hopeful of a breakthrough success on the continental scene.
Two wins and three draws during the group stage saw them seal the section's second qualifying spot behind Suwon Bluewings and, at that stage, they looked far from being the team to beat. But Kashima improved game after the game in the knockout stage, sweeping past the likes of star-studded Shanghai SIPG and Tianjin Quanjian to reach the last four for the first time. They then went on to edge out Suwon 6-5 on aggregate before prevailing against Persepolis to lift the coveted trophy for the very first time.
Kashima's road to glory
- Contested 14 games over the course of their campaign
- Registered seven wins, five draws and two defeats
- Scored 25 goals (1.78 per game) and conceded 14
Agony at the Azadi
Having reached the last four in last year's campaign, Persepolis went a step further this year by storming to the final. Throughout the campaign, the Tehran giants had made their Azadi Stadium a formidable fortress, winning five and drawing one of their matches there en route to the final. Notably, they twice registered crucial home wins in return legs against Al-Jazira and Al-Duhail to advance in the knockout stages.
Therefore, despite losing 2-0 in the final first leg at Kashima, Persepolis did hold out hope for another reprieve on home soil. However, they failed to breach the visitors' solid rearguard and a goalless second leg dashed their hopes of emerging as the first-time champions.
While Brazilian Serginho is Kashima's top-scorer with five goals, it was Yuma Suzuki who caught most attention for his sparkling attacking play. The 22-year-old proved a constant threat and, despite being on target only once, he absorbed opponents' attention and thus made space for his team-mates to create chances and score goals. The dynamic attacker has also proved that he can score at the highest level, having found the net against Atletico Nacional in his Club World Cup debut two years ago and racked up four goals during last year's AFC Champions League campaign.
What they said
"I am so proud that we have won the AFC Champions League title for the first time. We played Real Madrid in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup two years go, but for me tonight is more satisfying as we won the title. The name of Kashima Antlers will now echo throughout Asia."
Kashima Antlers head coach Go Oiwa
Did you know?
- Kashima’s runners-up finish at the 2016 Club World Cup represents the best performance in the tournament by an Asian team
- They are the J.League’s most successful side, having taken the title eight times
- Kashima have appeared in eight different editions of the AFC Champions Leagues