KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. – Melbourne Victory denied Kashima Antlers a place in the Asian Champions League group stage on Tuesday, upsetting the J. League club 1-0 in a playoff.
With the loss, the 2018 ACL champions earned the unwanted distinction of being the first J. League side to fail to advance from the playoffs to the main stage of the tournament.
FC Tokyo, meanwhile, clinched a spot in Group F with a 2-0 playoff victory over visiting Filipino side Ceres-Negros.
Forward Andrew Nabbout struck the winner for the Australian first-division club early in the second half at a rain-soaked Kashima Stadium.
The loss marked an unhappy debut for new Antlers manager Antonio Carlos Zago, who took the reins after predecessor Go Oiwa stepped down following the club’s 2-0 loss to Vissel Kobe in the Emperor’s Cup final on Jan. 1.
Despite the lion’s share of possession and chances, Kashima was unable to find a breakthrough. Victory goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas proved to be impassable for the Antlers attack, which tallied 19 shots, including 14 on target.
Thomas produced an excellent save to stop an early attempt from Kashima midfielder Ryuji Izumi, an off-season acquisition from Nagoya Grampus.
New Brazilian signing Everaldo came close for Kashima with a header in the 31st minute, but this time the crossbar denied the hosts.
Leo Silva missed a chance to put Kashima up 1-0 before halftime, firing wide from middle of the area after Shoma Doi found him with a short cross.
The visitors opened the second half more aggressively, with Kashima keeper Kwoun Sun-tae forced to make a diving save to stop a long-range effort from Nabbout.
But the former Urawa Reds forward found the net in the 54th minute, scoring from the edge of the area with a deflected shot that flew awkwardly over Kwoun.
Antlers ramped up the pressure in search of an equalizer, but a lack of accuracy combined with superb goalkeeping from Thomas preserved the lead for manager Carlos Perez Salvachua’s team, who will take their place in Group E alongside Beijing Guoan, Thailand’s Chiangrai United and FC Seoul.
A downcast Doi apologized to Kashima’s fans following the match.
“There are no words. We had chances but we couldn’t convert them. My heart hurts,” Doi said.
“I’m really sorry for the loss. I believe in my teammates and our manager and we have to keep moving, starting with practice tomorrow.”
At a waterlogged Ajinomoto Stadium, last year’s J1 runner-up Tokyo earned the win despite finishing with 10 men following the 80th-minute dismissal of Taichi Hara.
Sei Muroya opened the scoring in the 48th minute, while midfielder Adailton struck in the 89th minute to seal the victory for Kenta Hasegawa’s side.
Tokyo will join South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai, Shanghai Shenhua and Australian side Perth Glory in Group F.
Emperor’s Cup winners Vissel Kobe and J. League champions Yokohama F Marinos will compete in Groups G and H, respectively, after earning automatic qualification to the group stage.