Japan and South Korea meet in Champions League final four
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Japan and South Korea meet in the semifinals of the Asian Champions league on Wednesday as Kashima Antlers and Suwon Bluewings aim to reach the final of the tournament for the first time.
The first leg takes place at the home of the eight-time Japanese champion, currently in third in the J.League.
“We are looking forward to facing Japanese opposition,” Suwon captain Yeom Ki-hoon said. “We know that Kashima is a good team but we are ready. This is the first time for us to reach this stage for seven years and we are not thinking of losing.”
The last time Suwon made the semifinals, the team lost to eventual winner Al Sadd in 2011. The Qatari team is in the other semifinal. The tournament is divided into two geographical zones — west and east — until the final, with Al Sadd facing Persepolis of Iran.
Al Sadd eliminated Esteghlal, Tehran rival of Persepolis, in the quarterfinal, helped by star midfielder Xavi Hernandez. The former Barcelona midfielder is getting closer to becoming the first player in history to win the Champions League in Asia as well as Europe.
Winger Akram Afif has been taking as many plaudits as his storied Spanish colleague thanks to a number of impressive performances.
“My performance in the Champions League is improving in every game and I’m always trying to do my best,” Afif said.
Persepolis defeated Qatar’s Al Duhail in the quarterfinal, overcoming a first-leg deficit to take the game 3-2. It still has a chance to become the first Iranian winner of the Champions League.
“We will play attacking football and I have trust in my players. We are optimistic about this match,” Persepolis coach Branko Ivankovic said.
The second legs take place in the final week of October.