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Kashima drops to 2nd place after suffering first loss of the tournament, while Urawa loses back-to-back matches at AFC Champions League 2019

25 April 2019

Kashima drops to 2nd place after suffering first loss of the tournament, while Urawa loses back-to-back matches at AFC Champions League 2019

On Wednesday 24 April, the fourth Sec. of the AFC Champions League (ACL) 2019 took place, as the defending champions, Kashima Antlers dropped to second place in Group E after suffering their first loss of the competition, 0-1 against Gyeongnam FC (Korea Republic) at home. In Group G, Urawa Red Diamonds lost to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (Korea Republic) 1-2 in an away match, marking their second consecutive loss.

Kashima concedes in the second half

Following their dramatic 3-2 away victory against Gyeongnam on Tuesday 9 April, the group leading Kashima was missing many of their core players, due to injuries and suspension, in the rematch held at their home.

The starting line-up for Kashima saw four changes from their previous encounter, as midfielder MISAO Kento and rookie defender SEKIGAWA Ikuma filled in as the centre halves, after INUKAI Tomoya and MACHIDA Koki were suspended for this match. In the left midfielder position, SHIRASAKI Ryohei made his ACL debut, while ODA Itsuki was placed as the right fullback.

Coach OIWA Go described his defence line as an improvised line-up, but the Kashima players did a fine job to keep away Gyeongnam’s midfielder KUNIMOTO Takahiro and striker NEGUEBA from creating major threats in the first half. However, their offence struggled to evade the pressure applied by Gyeongnam and failed to pick up their pace.

Just before halftime, Kashima came close to scoring the opening goal when NAGO Shintaro struck a shot at goal after receiving the ball from ENDO Yasushi, followed by a shot taken by Endo off a cut back delivered by KANAMORI Takeshi, but both opportunities fell short from finding the back of the net.

After finishing the first half scoreless, it was the Gyeongnam side who broke the deadlock in the second half.

In the 61st minute, Gyeongnam brought in BAE Ki-jong and LEE Kwang-jin onto the pitch, pushing their centre half LEE Kwang-seon upfront to take advantage of his height advantage. With Bae positioned on the right flank and Kunimoto on the left, the team made a drastic shift to their formation.

An opportunity was created just two minutes following the substitutions for the visiting side, when Jordon MUTCH received the ball from Bae and delivered a cross towards the box. The ball went passed the reaching hands of the Kashima goalkeeper KWOUN Sun-tae and connected with Kunimoto, who later reflected, “I had a feeling the ball was going to get by the goalkeeper,” the 21 year-old midfielder, who is a player from the Urawa youth system, captured the opening goal with his left foot to give Gyeongnam the lead.

In efforts level the match, Kashima brought in ABE Hiroki, YAMAGUCHI Kazuma, and ITO Sho into the match, but failed to score the equaliser, as the match ended with a score of 0-1.

In the other match of Group E, Shandong Luneng Taishan (China PR) won their away match 1-0 against Johor Darul Ta'zim (Malaysia) to increase their tally to eight, taking the lead of the group. With seven points, Kashima now drops to second place. Third place Gyeongnam recorded their first ACL victory and now has five points, while fourth place Johor DT’s chance to advance through has seemingly diminished with two matches left to play.

Urawa loses to Jeonbuk in back-to-back matches

Following their 0-1 home loss against the Korean powerhouse and Group G leaders, Jeonbuk Hyundai, Urawa entered the away match with a strong intention for a payback but ended up suffering consecutive losses.

Urawa struggled to deal with the quick pressure applied by Jeonbuk and conceded the opening goal in the 12th minute, when Ricardo LOPES intercepted a pass before dribbling up the field and striking a right footed shot into the net.

Despite being forced in the defensive end, Urawa managed to limit the damage to just one goal in the first half. However, Jeonbuk captured the goal in the third minute of the second half. The goal came from a counter attack initiated following a passing error committed by Urawa, as KIM Shin-wook connected with the cross delivered by Lopes to shake the net with a header.

Urawa managed to cut their deficit in half when KOROKI Shinzo converted the cross sent by MORIWAKI Ryota in the 58th minute, but their efforts ended their, as the match ended with a final score of 1-2.

With the win, Jeonbuk remains as the group leader while extending their tally to nine points. In the other match played in Group G, Beijing Sinobo Guoan (China PR) won over Buriram United (Thailand) 2-0 at home to mark their second consecutive victory and increase their points to seven. As a result, Beijing has now taken the second-place spot, while Urawa dropped to third with their four points. Buriram remains in fourth place with three points.

The fifth Sec. of the East division group stage will take place on Tuesday 7 and Wednesday 8 May.

Coaches and Players' Comments

OIWA Go, Coach (Kashima Antlers)
It was a very disappointing match for us, but Sekigawa and Misao showcased a spectacular performance to fill in the vacant position. There were many occasions where we need improvements in both offence and defence. We lacked quality in our plays in the final third and couldn’t exploit our opponents’ weaknesses. We need to reorganise our offensive approaches and do a better job at the individual level as well. From our pre-match analysis, we knew that the opponents were going to make the shift in formation, and I have provided the information to my players, but the goal came from our own misjudgement. That is something we must fix. I told my players that we must reset our minds before entering the next J. League and ACL match.

DF SEKIGAWA Ikuma (Kashima Antlers)
When the opponents positioned their tall defender upfront, I knew I had to contain him to deny their opportunities, but they didn’t allow me to do my job. It really made me realise that the level is so much higher than the high school level. The Brazilian players were capable of reaching for the ball from distance, but that was something I was told prior to the match, so I was able to make the adjustments on the pitch. This match has given me many things to work on ahead of our next match.

KIM Jong-boo, Coach (Gyeongnam FC)
Kashima is the defending champions, and they have plenty of experience playing in Asia. Despite losing their centre halves due to suspensions, they still showcased a great performance to make it a tough match for us, but it was great that we managed to win the game. We positioned Kunimoto and Mutch in the defensive midfield role to initiate the build-up plays, but with the team showing some nervousness in the first half, we couldn’t execute our game plan. However, once we shifted our formation and placed Kunimoto in the flank, we managed to score a goal from his side. It is our first appearance in the ACL and the Japanese teams are very good at their build-up plays and game management, so we focused on applying pressure from the front line. The fact that we were able to efficiently rotate our line-up from the league match has helped us earn this result.

MF KUNIMOTO Takahiro (Gyeongnam FC)
Although Kashima had the upper hand in terms of individual talent, we were more eager to win the match, and I feel like that’s what led us to this result. In our previous match, we conceded goals from the side attacks initiated in the left side, so we all kept that in mind for this match. I think we were able to showcase a better performance than last time. This win gives us hope to advance through to the knockout stage, so we will give our best to win the remaining two matches to advance. I personally was motivated more than usual for this match, because I wanted the people of Japan to see me. This team has given me the opportunity to play football, so I am just focused on doing my job. We haven’t won in a while, so after we won with a clean sheet and when I saw my friends coming out to cheer me from Kita-Kyushu, I was moved to tears.

Tournament Dates:
Play-offs: Tue. 5 - Tue. 19 February 2019
Group Stage: Mon. 4 March - Wed. 22 May 2019

Tournament Information

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