AFC – TEHRAN, A new attendance record will be set when Islamic Republic of Iran’s Persepolis take on Kashima Antlers from Japan in the second leg of the 2018 AFC Champions League final at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on Saturday.
With tickets for the 78,116 capacity Azadi stadium nearly sold out, the 2018 finale is poised to eclipse the highest single match attendance set during the 2014 finals, when 63,763 attended the deciding leg between Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal and Western Sydney Wanderers from Australia at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh.
The sensational response in Iran also paves the way for a second consecutive year of record attendances after the 2017 final between Urawa Red Diamonds and Al Hilal set the tournament’s highest-ever attendance over two legs. AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said: “From across all platforms and competitions, we are witnessing new benchmarks in engagement in the Continent. For the second straight year, we will witness a new attendance record, which is a testament to our progress in realising our ambitions through the AFC’s Vision and Mission.
“The AFC is determined to build on this momentum to ensure our competitions continue to provide the perfect stage for the Continent’s undeniable talent to shine and to excite our passionate fans.”
The thrilling race to Asian club glory reaches its peak as Kashima and Persepolis set their sights on a historic maiden AFC Champions League trophy and a record prize purse of $USD4 million.
Despite losing away to their Japanese opponents 2-0 in the first leg, Persepolis will be counting on what promises to be an electric full-capacity home support as they bid to become the first side since Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad to overhaul a two-goal deficit in the final almost 14 years ago.
Defying the odds and late home goals have become synonymous with Branko Ivankovic’s men this season, who have come from behind to win nearly all their knock-stage opponents, registering one of the tournament’s most memorable comebacks when they overturned a two-goal deficit against Qatar’s Al Duhail to progress into the semi-finals.
In Kashima, however, the Iranians will face a measured and patient side who have become a specialist at wearing down their opponents. The 2016 FIFA Club World Cup runner-up, which still stands as Asia’s best-ever showing at the world club showpiece, ousted a star-studded Shanghai SIPG side in the Round of 16, before easing past Tianjin Quanjian to set up a thriller with another of the tournament’s favourites, three-time champions, Suwon Bluewings.
Following their narrow 3-2 victory against the Koreans in the first-leg, Kashima then fell 3-1 behind in the return tie, but showed great tenacity and resilience to secure their place in their first-ever final, courtesy of goals from Daigo Nishi and Serginho.
The J. League club will be relying on Serginho once again who has scored in all five of his AFC Champions League matches including last week’s first leg, since his arrival in August. The Brazilian ace, however, will face stiff competition from goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand who will be looking to shrug off his early disappointment to rediscover the form that saw him grab global headlines for his remarkable performances at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.