Ito double takes Kashima into knockout rounds

(Image: Twitter/@atlrs_english)

Kashima Antlers’ Sho Ito scored a rapid-fire double to salvage their Asian Champions League title defence as the J-League side fought back to beat Shandong Luneng 2-1 on Wednesday and book their place in the last 16.

Five minutes after coming off the bench, Ito cancelled out Marouane Fellaini’s early header and the 30-year-old striker put his side’s qualification beyond doubt less than two minutes later when he showed composure to score the winner.

Kashima, who finished second in the group behind Shandong, had needed to avoid defeat to qualify for the next phase of the competition, ahead of Group E rivals Gyeongnam FC, of South Korea, and Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) from Malaysia.

The victory set up a round of 16 meeting with fellow J-League side Sanfrecce Hiroshima next month.

Gyeongnam beat JDT 2-0 in the other game in Group E, but the three points were not enough for them to reach the next round after Kashima’s victory left the South Koreans in third place.

“We lost our shape and our combinations after we conceded, so that is something we need to go over,” said Kashima coach Go Oiwa.

“What matters today is that we advanced to the next round. I’m proud of us for coming from behind to win. But we do have a lot to work on for the next round.”

Hiroshima had already secured first place in Group F and claimed a fifth straight victory with a comfortable 3-1 win over Melbourne Victory in what was Kevin Muscat’s final game in charge of the Australian side.

Shandong will take on fellow Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande in the next phase of the competition after Fabio Cannavaro’s side edged past Daegu FC from South Korea with a 1-0 win to take second place in Group F.

In the west of the continent, Al Wahda of the United Arab Emirates secured top spot in Group B despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad, who also advanced to the next round by finishing in second.

Neither side, however, knows who they will face in the round of 16 after the top-of-the-table clash in Group A between Iran’s Zobahan and Al Nassr from Saudi Arabia – due to be played in a neutral venue in Karbala in Iraq – was postponed.

Both teams have booked their places in the round of 16, with Zobahan needing only a draw to finish in first place.

The Asian Football Confederation is yet to announce a date for the rescheduled fixture, with the round of 16 matches in the west to be played in August. Games between teams in the east will be played on June 18 and 25.

REUTERS/Reporting by Michael Church, Additional reporting by Shintaro Kano, editing by Toby Davis

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