Both sides had narrow wins in the semifinals just under two weeks ago as Kashima edged past Korea Republic’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings 6-5 on aggregate and Persepolis saw off Qatar’s Al Sadd 2-1 over two legs, the-afc.com reported.
The game will be the first time either team has met opposition from the other side of the continent in the competition, with Kashima looking to make it back-to-back wins for Japan and Persepolis seeking a first title for Iran.
Like Kashima, Persepolis struggled to impose itself in the early years of the competition but reached the semifinals for the first time in 2017 before defeat to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.
The Tehran side returned to put in an even better performance this year, though, topping Group C ahead of Al Sadd, before claiming dramatic victories against the UAE’s Al Jazira and tournament favorite Al Duhail of Qatar in the first two rounds of the knockouts respectively to reach the last four.
With five goals to his name, Ali Alipour is his team’s top marksman and his pace on the break will pose a threat to Kashima, as he showed in the previous round against Al Sadd. The striker has scored in two of his three away games in the knockout stage.
Goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand grabbed global headlines after a superb FIFA World Cup and, as the last line of defense, will be looking to again shine on the biggest stage. In front of him is Seyyed Jalal Hosseini, the veteran Persepolis captain who may view the final as his last chance of continental glory.
Since 2008, Kashima had appeared in six editions of the AFC Champions League prior to the current campaign and had advanced to the knockout rounds five times, but the J-League side had never managed to progress from a knockout phase game.
But, after qualifying for the last 16 as Group H runner-up behind Suwon, Kashima ousted a star-studded Shanghai SIPG side 4-3 on aggregate, before easing past another Chinese team in Tianjin Quanjian 5-0 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.
Serginho signed prior to the quarterfinals and has scored in all four of his ACL appearances since his arrival, meaning the Brazilian forward has leapt to the top of Kashima’s scoring charts.
Elsewhere, young striker Yuma Suzuki will likely keep the Persepolis backline busy with his industry, while at the other end of the pitch, reliable center-back Gen Shoji will marshal the defense with authority.
‘No holding back’
In a pre-match press conference Persepolis manager Branko Ivankovic said his men will play as they always do – to win – in today’s game.
"We play very well away too. Our vision is to keep our way (style of play) as much as possible in the first leg," said Ivankovic.
"We know Kashima very well. We may not have played them before but we know them. We know their strengths that they are very good in set-piece situations with their tall players but we will have our plans."
Meanwhile, Meanwhile, Kashima coach Go Aiwa admitted his side will be on a mission to maximize home ground advantage in Japan, given Persepolis' strength when playing at home.
"We will be playing at home and we want to make use of our home ground advantage in the first leg to get the result we want," said the Japanese on Friday.
"The final is a game of 180 minutes and we will be playing the first half on Saturday. Our target is to win the title and my players are highly motivated and in good physical condition."
"I agree that Persepolis is much disciplined and its defense is very tight. However, they also have their weaknesses and my players have their instructions.
"Our mission is to win by multiple goals and it is mine and my staff's responsibility to give the players the right atmosphere so that they play the football we want to and bring joy to our fans."