Ibaraki, November 3: Kashima Antlers secured a healthy first-leg lead in the AFC Champions League final on Saturday, defeating Persepolis 2-0 in Ibaraki.
Second-half goals from Brazilian duo Leo Silva and Serginho provided reward for Kashima, who created the better chances against their Iranian opponents.
Branko Ivankovic's Persepolis, who finished with 10 men after a late red card for Siamak Nemati, had the better of the game's opening stages, but struggled to forge openings in open play and now face a stiff task to turn things around in next Saturday's second leg.
As Kashima gradually seized control of the first half, Serginho and Hiroki Abe had chances to break the deadlock.
Those two players then combined effectively three minutes after the interval to set up a chance for Leo Silva, but he blazed wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Leo Silva atoned for his miss 10 minutes later with a wonderful goal. After a fluid one-two with Shoma Doi, the midfielder proved much more composed with a second sight of goal and coolly placed the ball into Alireza Beiranvand's bottom-right corner.
Serginho made it 2-0 in the 70th minute after the Persepolis defence failed to clear their lines from a dead ball. The Brazilian found himself unmarked at the back post as the ball came back into the area, before finishing calmly.
To make matters worse for Persepolis, Nemati picked up a second yellow card in stoppage time and will miss the second leg through suspension.
What does it mean? All to do for Persepolis
The final is far from over, but Persepolis will certainly need to deliver a much-improved display in the second leg to have any chance of denying Kashima the title.
A window into Abe's potential
Having returned from the Japanese camp at the AFC U19 Championship to play in the final, Abe was simply wonderful in the first leg. Explosive and precise but also an intelligent runner, the 19-year-old attacker was key to Kashima's best moments, particularly when drifting in from the left and providing the link between midfield and Yuma Suzuki.
Mensha misfires for Persepolis
The lone forward in Ivankovic's somewhat reactive setup, Godwin Mensha failed to provide a reference point for final debutants Persepolis in attack. In numerous instances, the Nigerian was unable to protect or precisely distribute the ball, while Kashima's centre-backs were quicker in anticipating situations.
Next Saturday will see the return leg in Iran and Persepolis will need to come out and attack. At this stage, Kashima look comfortable and the likely Asian champions.