By Michael Church
HONG KONG, Nov 8 (Reuters) – Branko Ivankovic is banking on the influence of a sold-out Azadi Stadium to help his Persepolis side overcome a 2-0 first leg deficit when the Iranians host Japan’s Kashima Antlers in the second leg of the Asian Champions League final on Saturday.
A crowd of more than 80,000 is expected at the imposing Tehran venue and Ivankovic’s team will need as much as assistance as possible to claw their way back into the fixture after a disappointing opening 90 minutes in Japan last weekend.
Brazilian duo Leo Silva and Serginho scored for Kashima to cap a dominant second-half display from Go Oiwa’s team and Croatian Ivankovic is hoping the roles will be reversed in the return meeting on Saturday.
“It’s always easier to play at home than away and we will be playing in front of 80,000 fans, which are always our 12th player,” the former Iran national team boss told reporters.
“Our fans always give us big support. I hope they will and that we can do something and we can beat Kashima and at the end of the game we will try to win and become the champions.”
Both clubs are looking to win the title for a first time, with Kashima seeking to ensure the title stays in Japan after Urawa Red Diamonds claimed the crown 12 months ago.
No Iranian club has won a continental title since Pas’ Asian Club Championship triumph in 1993, with only two other local teams — Sepahan (2007) and Zobahan (2010) — reaching the final since the 2002 launch of the Asian Champions League.
Persepolis go into the game without winger Siamak Nemati, who is suspended after being sent off for a second bookable offence as tempers started to fray in the latter stages of the first meeting between the teams.
Oiwa will have a full strength squad to select from and he goes into the game having led the club to a 3-2 win over Kashiwa Reysol on Tuesday that moved Antlers up to third in the J.League standings, despite fielding a second-string line-up.
“Playing in Asian Champions League away games is never easy,” Oiwa said. “We’ve not had one game which was easy for us away from home. It’s always difficult and being in Tehran in front of 80,000 people is going to be tough for us.
“It’s going to be a totally different game and we have to concentrate from the first whistle to the last and be aggressive and balanced.
“In some ways, we have to be economical in attack as well. It will all be about the balance but I hope we can do well in the second leg.”
(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by John O’Brien)