Soccer

Antlers begin defense of Asian Champions League title with victory

Kyodo

Kashima Antlers opened their Asian Champions League campaign with a 2-1 win over Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim thanks to goals either side of halftime from Taiki Hirato and Serginho.

In the first-ever ACL game involving a Malaysian side, defending champion Antlers were quick to put their Group E opponents under pressure at Kashima Stadium.

Hirato fired wide from close range, and then Serginho was brought down in the box in the 14th minute by goalkeeper Farizal Marlias, who redeemed himself by saving the Brazilian striker’s spot kick.

The visitors, winners of the past five Malaysian Super League titles, looked to go toe-to-toe with the champions and nearly matched them in terms of possession and shots on goal in the opening half.

They came close to taking the lead 10 minutes before the break when left back La’Vere Corbin-Ong headed just wide from a set piece.

Hirato broke the deadlock two minutes from halftime, beating Marlias with a long-range strike from near the left touchline.

Serginho doubled the lead for the J. League side 11 minutes after the interval when he stroked home a shot into the top left corner from outside the box.

But the Malaysians continued to create opportunities and were rewarded in the 80th minute when Brazilian striker Diogo scored from close range following a set piece.

Aiming to become just the second team to repeat as ACL champion, Kashima qualified for the main draw of the tournament by beating Australian side Newcastle Jets 4-1 in a playoff last month.

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