HONG KONG, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Kashima Antlers moved one step closer to their first Asian Champions League final as Go Oiwa’s side came back from two goals down to defeat Suwon Bluewings 3-2 in the first leg of their semi-final on Wednesday.
Suwon were two up inside the first six minutes thanks to an own goal from Atsuto Uchida and a shot from Dejan Damjanovic as the eight-time Japanese champions made a horrendous start to the opening leg of the last-four encounter.
But Oiwa’s side halved the deficit through an own goal by Jang Ho-ik before Serginho’s 84th-minute tap-in and Uchida’s deflected winner three minutes into injury time ensured Kashima go into the return in South Korea in three weeks’ time with the upper hand.
“We have to reflect on the fact that we conceded two goals so early in the game,” said Oiwa.
“Of course, we have to fix that for the second leg but the players showed great spirit to fight until the end and that’s why we won.”
Kashima’s debut appearance in the semi-finals of the continental championship got off to a bad start with Uchida credited with the own goal inside the second minute after the home defence failed to clear Yeom Ki-hun’s corner.
Suwon doubled their advantage less than four minutes later when goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae left his near post unguarded to allow Damjanovic to slot in a goal.
But Jang’s bullet header off Serginho’s cross gave Kashima a lifeline and eventually Oiwa’s side moved level as the Brazilian finished off a fine move from close range six minutes from time.
With more than two minutes of injury time gone, Uchida made up for his own goal when his shot through a crowded Suwon penalty area was deflected past Shin Hwa-yong to give Antlers a goal advantage ahead of the second leg on Oct. 24.
The winners will face either Al Sadd of Qatar or Iran’s Persepolis in the final, with the club from Tehran holding a 1-0 advantage going into the second leg of their semi-final as Ali Alipour’s late penalty separated the teams at the end of the first meeting on Tuesday.
Former Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi Hernandez captained Al Sadd on his 100th appearance for the club but the World Cup and UEFA Champions League winner was unable to unlock a stubborn Persepolis defence.
The game looked set to end scoreless until Al Sadd goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb brought down Alipour on the edge of the area and the 22-year-old picked himself up to score from the spot in the 86th minute.
“It’s difficult to come here and play Al Sadd, especially when we are suffering from injuries and suspensions,” said Persepolis assistant coach Zlatko Ivankovic.
“But we believed in ourselves, that we were able to get a good result, and now we’re going home with the best possible result.” (Editing by Clare Fallon)