Persepolis 0 Kashima Antlers 0 (0-2 agg): Visitors dig in for Champions League triumph
Kashima Antlers clinched the AFC Champions League title with a goalless draw in Tehran on Saturday that secured a 2-0 aggregate win over Persepolis.
The visitors took a strong lead into the second leg after goals from Leo Silva and Serginho, but it was the defensive players who got them over the line.
Persepolis pushed hard in the final third in search of a route back into the tie, yet they lacked the craft to break down Kashima and Kwoun Sun-tae was required only to make routine stops.
Kashima clung on and effectively wound down the clock to become Asian champions for the very first time.
Shoma Doi lashed wide when he might have added to Kashima's aggregate lead early on, before the hosts took control and Ali Alipour wastefully directed a close-range header into Kwoun's grateful arms.
Bashar Resan shot straight at the goalkeeper, too, and a largely scrappy first half appeared to suit the Japanese outfit, who were able to protect their advantage with relative ease.
Alipour sent a volley whistling wide as the pressure on Kwoun's goal built again at the start of the second period, but their momentum waned, and time soon ran out for the hosts.
Another header from Alipour missed the target as Kashima eased to a thoroughly deserved aggregate victory, becoming the third Japanese side to win the trophy after Urawa Red Diamonds and Gamba Osaka.
— #ACLFinal (@TheAFCCL) November 10, 2018
What does it mean? Complete Kashima performance rewarded
Having dominated the first leg and got the goals they needed, Kashima defended doggedly and merited their clean sheet. In the final of Asia's premier club competition, they showed just why they should be considered the continent's best team, their complete performances across the two legs making them well worth the victory.
Leo Silva does the dirty work
Kashima did not need Leo Silva to repeat his goalscoring heroics of the first leg, but the midfielder was required to get involved, win fouls and ensure Persepolis could not build any momentum. It was not a glamorous job, but he did it well, epitomising a focused Kashima display.
Alipour squanders best openings
Two goals down, Persepolis needed to make up ground early on and they might have but for their forward's wastefulness. Having charged forward and lashed one effort over the top, he missed perhaps the biggest chance of the game, meeting an inviting Ahmad Nourollahi cross with the whole goal to aim at and managing only to pick out the goalkeeper.
While Persepolis will have to return their focus solely to domestic action, Kashima can look forward to joining the likes of Real Madrid and Guadalajara in the Club World Cup in December.