By Michael Church
HONG KONG, Oct 24 – Brazilian striker Serginho scored in a fourth straight Asian Champions League game on Wednesday to earn Kashima Antlers a 3-3 draw with Suwon Bluewings, securing the Japanese side a place in the final of the competition with a 6-5 aggregate win.
Antlers, who finished as runners-up in the FIFA Club World Cup in 2016 but have never won an Asian title, will host the first leg of the final against Persepolis on Nov. 3, with the return in Tehran a week later after the Iranians eliminated Al Sadd from Qatar on Tuesday.
Serginho’s strike eight minutes from time pulled Kashima ahead on aggregate after a thrilling second half that saw Suwon take a 3-1 lead having trailed at half time.
Kashima held a 3-2 lead after the first leg in Japan three weeks ago and looked to be cruising into the final when Shuto Yamamoto’s header gave the Japanese side the lead on the evening and extended their aggregate advantage.
But a three-goal salvo in eight second-half minutes put Suwon briefly in control.
Yeom Ki-hyun’s header was saved by Kwoun Sun-tae in the Kashima goal before Lim Sang-hyub pounced on the rebound seven minutes after the restart and, two minutes later, Jo Sung-jin headed in Yeom’s corner to give Suwon the lead.
That advantage was extended 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 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. (Reporting by Michael Church Editing by David Holmes)