Japan’s Kashima Antlers fought back from behind to edge Suwon Bluewings 6-5 on aggregate and reach their first Asian Champions League final after a six-goal thriller on Wednesday.
Suwon looked on course for the final after three quick goals in the second half before Kashima, who came from two down to edge the first leg 3-2, mounted another stunning comeback.
Late goals from Daigo Nishi and new Brazilian signing Serginho made it 3-3 on the night as the Japanese side snatched a heart-stopping aggregate win to set up a final with Iran’s Persepolis.
Kashima held the edge after the rollercoaster first leg, and they increased their aggregate lead to 4-2 after Shuto Yamamoto’s opener on 25 minutes at Suwon World Cup Stadium in South Korea.
From a free kick, the Japan international defender stole in at the near post and stooped low to plant his header past Shin Hwa-yong, silencing Suwon’s home fans.
Kashima were in the driving seat, but Suwon came charging back with three goals in nine minutes to regain control after the break.
Six minutes after the restart, Lim Sang-hyub gobbled up a close-range rebound, before Jo Sung-jin scored with a diving header from a corner two minutes later.
Then on the hour-mark, Montenegrin veteran Dejan Damjanovic squeezed one in at the near post for his 36th Champions League goal — equalling Korean great Lee Dong-gook’s tournament record.
However, Suwon’s joy was short-lived as Nishi pulled one back on 64 minutes, making it 3-2 on the night and 5-5 on aggregate as extra time beckoned.
And Korean heads dropped on 82 minutes when Serginho buried his shot in the top corner to put Kashima 6-5 ahead on aggregate and set the Japanese side on course for the final.
Suwon’s Lim fired a shot across the face and Yeom Ki-hun hit the side-netting in a frantic period of stoppage time before the final whistle confirmed Kashima’s hard-fought win.
Kashima will face fellow debut finalists Persepolis in next month’s two-legged title match, after the Iranian side edged Qatar’s Al Sadd 2-1 on aggregate on Tuesday.