Western Sydney opens ACL title defense with win in Japan
The Associated Press
Feb. 25, 2015
TOKYO (AP) — Defending champion Western Sydney Wanderers opened its Asian Champions League campaign with a 3-1 victory over Kashima Antlers on Wednesday.
Yojiro Takahagi and Mark Bridge scored toward the end to seal the win as the Wanderers, the first Australian A-League club to win the Asian continental title, overcame a sluggish first half to win at Ibaraki.
Despite lagging in last place the domestic league, the Wanderers went ahead in the 54th minute via an own-goal from Kashima defender Gen Shoji, who deflected in a shot from Bridge.
But Kashima equalized quickly through Shoma Doi, and the match appeared set to be drawn until Takahagi found the mark in the 86th, and Bridge extended the margin in stoppage time.
"It was a very tough game and Kashima are an exceptionally good team with fabulous history, and for us to come here to start our Champions League defense with a positive a result is a fantastic achievement," Western Sydney assistant coach Ian Crook said. "Our performance in the A-League at times is very good, but maybe we haven't got the results that we think we deserve. Certainly winning games of football helps confidence, and all players and all teams need confidence to win games."
Guangzhou Evergrande, the 2013 Asian champion, also opened with a win in Group H with Ricardo Goulart heading in the only goal against FC Seoul, a rematch of the continental final from two years ago.
It was the first official match for Evergrande's new coach Fabio Cannavaro who replaced fellow Italian and World Cup-winning coach Marcelo Lippi this season.
Cannavaro said he was satisfied with the win against a tough opponent.
In Group G, replacement Leo Itaperuna struck three minutes from time to help for two-time champion Suwon Bluewings of South Korea come back for a 2-1 win over visiting Urawa Reds, the 2007 continental champions.
In the same group, 10-man Beijing Guoan score late to beat Australian champion Brisbane Roar 1-0 on the Gold Coast.
Substitute Shao Jiyayi netted a stoppage-time free kick to help the Chinese Super League runner-up win despite playing with one man less for more than an hour.
In the Western zone, 2014 ACL finalist and two-time champion Al Hilal opened with a 3-1 win over Lokomotiv Tashkent in Riyadh.
Saud Kariri, Yousef Al Salem and Thiago Neves scored for the Saudi club, which took the lead in Group C when Iranian champion Foolad Khouzestan held 2011 champions Al Sadd to a 0-0 draw.
In Group D, Al Ahli of United Arab Emirates had a 3-3 draw with Saudi-based Al-Ahli and Nasaf Qarshi of Uzbekistan edged Tractor Sazi of Iran 2-1.