Iran’s Persepolis seeks to overturn a first-leg 2-0 deficit against Japan’s Kashima Antlers when the two sides square off in the second leg of the 2018 AFC Champions League final in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium on Saturday.
Two second-half goals from Brazilian duo Leo Silva and Serginho in Kashima Soccer Stadium last Saturday put Go Oiwa's men in the driver’s seat going into the return leg.
Branko Ivankovic’s team, however, will have other ideas as some 80,000 of staunch supporters are expected to turn out at one of Asia's largest venues as the so-called 12th man for the Iranian Reds to help their side clinch a first-ever continental title.
The Iranian champion – unbeaten at home in this year’s competition – will still face a tough task in turning things around against the J-League side as it will have to do without two dynamic wingers Siamk Nemati – who was shown a red card late in the first leg – and Omid Alishah who will miss the game with an ankle injury.
With Nemati and Alishah sidelined, Ivankovic will count on Iraqi international Bashar Resan to lead the frontline behind strikers Ali Alipour and Godwin Mensha.
One last push
Persepolis captain Seyyed Jalal Hoseini issued a rallying cry to the Persepolis fans ahead of Staurday’s game.
The Reds will be targeting a third comeback in this year’s knockout stage, after they overturned deficits against Al Jazira of the UAE and Qatar’s Al-Duhail earlier in the competition, the-afc.com reported.
Both those recoveries took place in front of a capacity crowd at the Azadi Stadium, and Hoseini is calling on one last push from the faithful at one of Asia’s most famous arenas on Saturday.
“They are so important. They have always been beside us, especially this year when we have been in some difficult situations," he said.
"They have acted like our strong arm in different matches and have never left our side. We have reached the final with their support but we wasted one match.
“However, there are still 90 minutes left. And this is the final moment for them. I want to ask them to be just like the players and not waste any energy before kickoff. We, the players and fans both, have to start together with full energy. I ask them not to waste any energy because we need it during the match.”
A goal from Kashima would leave Persepolis needing four in return, and the 36-year-old knows keeping a steady balance between defense and attack will be key.
“The most important thing is not to concede any goals. And at the same time we have to score – we have to do two difficult things at the same time. But we have our fans beside us and we have to be incredibly motivated.
"By working hard and maintaining an understanding of the situation we have to play very well from the first minute."
“I can only promise that I will try to do the best I can. We can do big things together. But it is a very tough match for both teams, especially for us, as we need to score two goals and keep a clean sheet to make the match level.
"It is a very hard job and it requires lots of energy. I hope our fans inject this energy into us so we can start the match very strongly from the beginning.”