AFC – TEHRAN, The first leg of the 2018 AFC Champions League final may not have gone to Persepolis’ plans but head coach Branko Ivankovic is confident his team will bounce back in Tehran next week.
Second-half goals from Leo Silva and Serginho secured Japan’s Kashima Antlers a 2-0 win in Saturday’s first leg, leaving Persepolis to rue what it could have been.
The Islamic Republic of Iran giants started the match aggressively and had a couple of early sights at goal but their intensity dropped in the second half, allowing Kashima to take a good lead into next Saturday’s return fixture in Azadi Stadium.
“Firstly, I would like to congratulate Kashima for their win but we still have another match in Tehran next week and I am both hopeful and confident that we will bounce back,” said Ivankovic.
“I agree that this is a good result for Kashima. A big result in fact but the final isn’t over and we will do our homework and come back stronger in the second leg.”
That the Iranians will be up for it is definite for they took – at least for the opening 20 minutes on Saturday – the game to Kashima and an early goal would have surely changed the complexion of the game for Persepolis.
Ivankovic admitted that his side lost some of their edge in the second half and this allowed Kashima to gradually take control and ultimately seal the win.
“We tried to play with the same intensity in the second half but couldn’t and this allowed Kashima to control the game. Even then, I am satisfied with the performance of my players.”
Ivankovic is counting on the home fans to push them to a famous comeback in the return leg, as they did in the Round of 16 and quarter-finals when Persepolis overcame first leg deficits advance.
“Just as the Kashima fans did for them, I am expecting our fans to cheer my players on to victory. We can do it, especially with the backing of the thousands who will be in the stadium for the return leg.”