TEHRAN – Japanese-league club Kashima Antlers claimed on Saturday their maiden title in the AFC Champions League, Asia’s premier club soccer tournament, by defeating Iranian side Persepolis 2-0 on aggregate.
After winning the Nov. 3 first leg 2-0 in Kashima, the Antlers wrapped up the championship – and earned a FIFA Club World Cup berth – when the teams played to scoreless draw here at Azadi Stadium in front of roughly 100,000 people.
The Japanese club put up an effective defensive wall to stymie Tehran-based Persepolis, whose best chance came on a left-footed shot from the penalty arc by forward Ali Alipour that went just wide of the right upright in the 64th minute.
The massive crowd then could only groan in frustration when one last chance – a powerful blast from the edge of the area by midfielder Ahmad Nourollahi in the 88th minute – soared over the crossbar.
The Antlers’ victory makes it back-to-back championships for J1 League teams, with the Urawa Red Diamonds having taken home the title in 2017.
It also qualifies them for the FIFA Club World Cup, which will be played this year from Dec. 12-22 in the United Arab Emirates.
The Antlers will square off in the quarterfinals against Mexican-league club Guadalajara on Dec. 15 at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in the Emirati city of al-Ain.
The winner will take on the European champions, Real Madrid, in a semifinal match at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Gulf country.
The Kashima Antlers competed in the FIFA Club World Cup in 2016 when the tournament was held in Japan, winning three matches to reach the final before losing to Real Madrid 4-2 in a contest that went to extra time.