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April 25, 2019

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Asian champion Kashima falters, China clubs win

Reigning Asian champion Kashima Antlers slumped to a shock 0-1 home defeat by Gyeongnam FC yesterday on a great night for South Korean sides against Japanese opposition in the AFC Champions League. It was also a good night for Chinese clubs as both Shandong Luneng and Beijing Guo’an won.

Kashima looked a shadow of the side that became ACL champion last year as it relinquished control in Group E to Shandong, which won 1-0 at Johor Darul Tazim in Malaysia, courtesy of Graziano Pelle’s first-half goal to go top on eight points.

Fellow Koreans Jeonbuk Motors stand on the verge of the last 16 after a man-of-the-match performance from Ricardo Lopes gave them a 2-1 win against Urawa Red Diamonds in Group G.

Lopes opened the scoring in the 12th minute, capitalizing on a defensive error to lash an unstoppable right-foot rocket into the bottom corner.

The Brazilian then turned provider just after half-time, crossing from the left for giant striker Kim Shin-wook to head home at the near post.

A missed clearance by captain Hong Jeong-ho allowed Shinzo Koroki to pull one back against the run of play in the 58th, but Jeonbuk survived a nervy finale to take all three points in the top-of-the-table clash.

Jeonbuk now needs just one win from its last two matches to guarantee a place in the knockout phase.

Urawa’s defeat enabled Beijing to move into second, two points behind Jeonbuk, as Brazilian international Renato Augusto scored a penalty and made the second goal in a deserved 2-0 win over Thailand’s Buriram United.

In wet and cold conditions in Beijing, the Chinese Super League leader dominated but Buriram held out until the 55th when Thai international Sasalak Haiprakhon handled in the box and Augusto stepped up to ram home.

Beijing, which has started the league season with six straight wins, sealed all three points when the 31-year-old Augusto picked out Ba Dun to head in from close range.

Two weeks ago, the 2018 ACL winner Kashima had needed two stoppage-time goals to claim a 3-2 victory over Gyeongnam after having been 0-2 down and reduced to 10 men.

But there was no repeat of those heroics as Gyeongnam gave itself a qualification lifeline when Takahiro Kunimoto latched onto Jordon Mutch’s deep cross in the 63rd.

Gyeongnam remains third in Group E with two games to play, two points behind Kashima, which has seven, and three adrift of Shandong, its next opponent.

Shandong’s Pelle, this season’s leading ACL scorer, continued his deadly form in front of goal as he bagged his sixth in four matches to give the Chinese side a hard-fought victory against the Malaysian champion.

The former Southampton and Italy poacher bundled home from inside the six-yard box in the 22nd after Song Long’s cross had created confusion in the Johor defense.


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