Suwon Bluewings - Kashima Antlers: goals, match report
A frantic second half saw five goals swing the tie in favour of both teams before the Japanese giants eventually secured a place in the AFC Champions League final.
A place in the Asian Champions League final was at stake. The second-leg was perfectly poised after Kashima Antlers came back from two goals down in the opening six minutes to win 3-2 in their own back yard. So did it live up to expectations? You better believe it did!
Suwon Bluewings 3 - 3 Kashima Antlers (Agg. 5 - 6)
The first half gave us a number of chances for both sides, the better ones falling to the visitors from Japan as the hosts pushed forward methodically for the goal they required. It was, however, Kashima who opened the scoring with a nicely controlled header at the near post from Shuto Yamamoto who redirected a lovely Serginho free-kick from the right flank. That two-goal advantage was maintained until the break, with no one in the stadium expecting what was to come.
A three-goal flurry in eight second-half minutes put the Bluewings in command, if only briefly. A Yeom Ki-hyun's header in the 57th minute was saved by Kwoun Sun-tae in the Kashima goal before Lim Sang-hyub pounced on the rebound. Two minutes later, Jo Sung-jin headed in Yeom's corner to give Suwon the lead on the night and on away goals.
Then came a third on the hour mark when Dejan Damjanovic beat Kwoun at his near post with a low shot that saw the veteran striker pull level with Lee Dong-gook to become the tournament's all-time leading scorer. The home fans were delirious.
The pendulum, however, swung back towards Kashima just four minutes later when Daigo Nishi scored with a deflected effort that left the scores tied 5-5 on aggregate and the game destined for extra time.
But, with eight minutes to go, Serginho maintained his run of scoring in every Asian Champions League game since he joined Kashima in the summer from Santos by firing his right foot effort into the top corner.
That goal left Suwon needing to score twice to advance and, although Yeom threatened in injury time with an effort into the side netting, Kashima held on to become the second Japanese side in a row to progress to the final following Urawa Reds' title win last year.
Kashima Antlers will face Iranian side Persepolis in the AFC Champions League final across two legs which will be played on the 3rd and 10th November.
Suwon Bluewings - Kashima Antlers: minute-by-minute
Suwon Bluewings - Kashima Antlers: preview
This AFC Champions League semi-final second leg could hardly be better poised. The Japanese Antlers will be delighted to have fought back from being two goals down inside six minutes in the first leg to carry a lead into this tie, but know that the key could be keeping things much tighter at the back. Their South Korean opponents on the other hand need a goal if they are going to proceed to the final against Persepolis, but whether they go for it from the off, or play a more cagey game, we'll have to wait and see.
Returning manager Seo Jung-won never planned for his side to be sitting 0-2 ahead in the first encounter at the Kashima Soccer Stadium. However, from that fortunate position he was clearly disappointed to come into today's game needing to chase a goal. In players of the calibre of Yeom Ki-hun, Dejan Damjanovic and Elvis Saric, the home fans will know that dreams of another continental final is well founded. But with such inconsistent form this season, something that has put them out of the reckoning for their domestic league, the question they are asking is which side will turn up today.
The Antlers have seen plenty of success in the Japan but need to do something in the Champions League to truly get the recognition they feel they merit. Manager Go Oiwa has already kissed goodbye to the J1 League - sitting 14 points adrift of Kawasaki Frontale at the top - so all his eggs are now securing placed in this semi-final basket. He'll look to the experience of Atsuto Uchida, formerly of Bundesliga side Schalke (who scored at both ends in the first leg) to support the backline, and to young striker Yuma Suzuki to keep the home side on their toes as they go looking for the goal they need. One player who could prove key is the relatively new signing of Serginho. The Brazilian has three goals in as many games and will aim to make an impact on the big stage.