Hiroshima clinches first Round of 16 appearance in 5 years, while Kashima drops away match at the AFC Champions League 2019
09 May 2019
On Wednesday 8 May, the fifth group stage matches of the AFC Champions League (ACL) 2019 took place, as Sanfrecce Hiroshima won their home match 1-0 against Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao in Group F to clinch their first round of 16 appearance in five years. In Group E, Kashima Antlers lost their away match 0-1 to Johor Darul Ta'zim (Malaysia), as their fate will be determined in the final group stage match.
Hiroshima holds on to first half lead
Entering the match with a two-point lead over the Chinese powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao, who has won the ACL title twice, Hiroshima was in position to clinch the round of 16 with a draw or better. After losing to the same opponent 0-2 in their previous encounter in March, the Hiroshima side took the initiative of the match through their attacks penetrating the flanks.
The opening goal came in the 15th minute, when SASAKI Sho connected with a corner kick delivered by MORISHIMA Tsukasa to give Hiroshima an early lead. The home side continued to create opportunities, as Sasaki struck a shot soon after the opener, followed by a shot taken by PARTIC just passed the 30th minute mark.
With Anderson TALISCA, who has scored four goals in this year’s ACL, missing the match due to injury, PAULINHO and GAO Lin led the attacks for Guangzhou. In the 42nd minute, midfielder ZHANG Xiuwei struck a shot from outside the box, but Hiroshima’s NOGAMI Yuki responded quickly to block this shot.
In the second half, Guangzhou made two substitutions to change the dynamics of the game. With the team taking a more offensive approach, the Chinese side created more scenes to threaten the opposing goal, but Hiroshima kept their poise to deflect off the Guangzhou attacks. Gao struck a shot from the right side in the 75th minute, followed by a volley shot taken in the 88th minute, but Hiroshima’s goalkeeper OSAKO Keisuke made the save to keep the clean sheet intact.
Towards the end of the match, Hiroshima came close to scoring their second goal when MINAGAWA Yusuke connected with a freekick to strike a header, but his attempt was saved by the opposing goalkeeper. Hiroshima maintained a solid performance throughout the match to earn their fourth consecutive victory with a final score of 1-0. With the win, Hiroshima clinched their first appearance to the knockout stage since 2014, becoming the first Japanese team to advance this season.
On this day, Daegu FC (Korea Republic) won their home match against Melbourne Victory (Australia) 4-0 to get themselves into second place. Guangzhou and Daegu will clash at the final group stage match with the second spot into the round of 16 at stake.
Kashima concedes in second half to lose back to back matches
In Group E, second place Kashima was in position to clinch the round of 16 with a draw or better, depending on the result of the other match played. However, the defending champions struggled dearly in the away match against the fourth place Johor.
Coming back from their suspensions, centre halves MACHIDA Koki and INUKAI Tomoya featured the starting line-up, while NAGAKI Ryota was placed as the right fullback in this match. Kashima created opportunities to threaten the opposing goal with efforts made by Leo SILVA, ABE Hiroki, and ITO Sho, but their attempts fell short from finding the back of the net.
The first goal of the match came in the second half. Despite missing their ace DIOGO due to suspension, Johor found their way to score a goal in the 69th minute, when Syafiq AHMAD responded to a through ball played in the left flank before striking a shot into the Kashima goal.
In efforts to level the match, Kashima brought DOI Shoma, KANAMORI Takeshi, and YAMAGUCHI Kazuma onto the pitch, but fell short from scoring the equaliser. As a result, Johor marked their first ever ACL victory while Kashima suffered their second straight loss.
In the other match played in Group E, group leaders Shandong Luneng Taishan (China PR) won their home match against Gyeongnam FC (Korea Republic) 2-1 to secure their spot into the knockout stage. With Kashima leading two points ahead of third place Gyeongnam, Kashima can now advance with a draw or better against Shandong in their final group stage match at home. Even with a loss, Kashima can still advance if the match between Gyeongnam and Johor ends in a draw.
The final group stage matches of the EAST division will take place on Tuesday 21 and Wednesday 22 May.
Coaches and Players' Comments
JOFUKU Hiroshi, Coach (Sanfrecce Hiroshima)
Our players did a great job to stay focused and execute their tasks for the entire 90 minutes. We managed to control the match as we planned and contain players like Gao Lin and Paulinho, who are capable of creating opportunities through their ability to keep the ball. We were fully prepared for this match and it went just as we planned. Our first leg against Guangzhou gave us a great learning experience. Through that match, we learned how to enter the first half and the difficulties of the away matches. It was evident that the young players who has experienced that match showed great improvements to help us win today. It was great that we managed to advance through the group stage by rotating our players.
GK OSAKO Keisuke (Sanfrecce Hiroshima)
This was a very important match, so I am glad we were able to win with a shutout. We haven’t been able to keep a clean sheet in our recent matches including the ones played in the J. League, so that was in our mind, and we managed to be on the same page today. I think our defence line was well controlled. We will be facing much stronger opponents at the knockout stage and winning those tough matches will give us great confidence, so we hope to continue to showcase good performance like today.
DF SASAKI Sho (Sanfrecce Hiroshima)
We weren’t able to showcase a good performance in our first leg against Guangzhou, so we had a sense of revenge in our match today. The fact that we managed to play our game was the key role to our victory. We created some good opportunities from the corner kicks, and I was able to score from a great delivery, but that was more of a team goal than an individual goal. The entire team has been training well and that has really showed in this result. We hope to take each game at a time and continue to showcase our style of football.
MF SHIMIZU Kohei (Sanfrecce Hiroshima)
With the group lead at stake, it became a very difficult match, but I am glad we managed to earn the victory as well as our spot into the knockout stage. We were able to play well in the second half of our away match against the same opponent, but we wanted to start off fresh, so we entered the match as if we were facing a totally different team. That approach might have helped us earn the three points today.
Fabio CANNAVARO, Coach (Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao)
This was an unexpected result for us. Our game plan was ruined after we conceded the goal in the 15th minute of the first half. We tried to change our strategy in the second half by utilising our substitutes, and although we saw a positive change, we fell short from scoring a goal. We knew that this was a very important and difficult match. A draw would’ve given us the chance to win the group, but now we must win our final match.
Play-offs: Tue. 5 - Tue. 19 February 2019
Group Stage: Mon. 4 March - Wed. 22 May 2019
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