KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. - Atsuto Uchida struck a 93rd-minute winner as the Kashima Antlers completed a remarkable 3-2 comeback win over the Suwon Bluewings in the first leg of their Asian Champions League semifinal on Wednesday night.
The former Japan defender scrambled the ball across the line from a set piece after forward Yuma Suzuki rose above the pack to meet Serginho’s free kick and direct a touch pass to Uchida.
The injury-time winner, which came on the heels of Serginho’s 84th-minute equalizer, redeemed Uchida for an early own goal that helped the South Korean side take a 2-0 lead just six minutes into the match.
The J. League club, winner of its previous six across all competitions, looked barely conscious in the early going at Kashima Stadium.
The visitors took the lead after just two minutes when Uchida nudged the ball across the line with his chest while trying to clear from a corner.
Striker Dejan Damjanovic doubled the lead four minutes later when he pounced on a deflected ball at the edge of the box and dribbled along the right goal line before threading a tightly angled shot past Antlers ‘keeper Kwoun Sun-tae.
Damjanovic had another attempt thwarted in the 13th minute when Shuto Yamamoto just managed to get a foot to the Montenegrin’s close-range shot.
Having gained their composure, the Antlers began to hold possession for longer stretches and exercise greater control over the flow of the game as the half progressed.
The home side struck back in the 22nd minute when Suwon defender Jang Ho-ik headed into his own net from close range while trying to prevent Serginho’s cross reaching Suzuki.
With the club top scorer surging toward goal, Serginho chipped a cross from the right edge of the box after creating space with a skillful turn.
At first glance, Suzuki looked to have scored a stunning headed goal, but replays showed the ball making contact with Jang’s forehead before finding the back of the net.
The Antlers were fortunate to avoid going a man down following a clash between Kwoun and Suwon forward Im Sang-hyeob at the end of the first half.
As Kwoun made a save on his goal line, Im played for the ball with his hand, angering the South Korean ‘keeper, who responded with a head butt that made glancing contact.
Apparently unmoved by Im theatrically collapsing to the ground, the referee showed Kwoun a yellow while awarding Kashima a free kick for hand ball.
Im came close to hitting a third for Suwon 20 minutes into the second half, striking the post with an overhead kick after the Antlers failed to deal with a ball into their area.
But it was the home side that did most of the attacking in the half, making repeated forays into the Suwon box.
The sustained pressure paid off with six minutes of regulation remaining when Serginho tapped home Daigo Nishi’s cross to complete a rapid counter attack.
Suzuki created the opportunity when he dispossessed Lee Ki-je inside halfway before laying off to Nishi.
The Antlers came within inches of a winner on the stroke of 87 minutes when substitute Koki Anzai rattled the crossbar from the top left corner of the box.