Kashima Antlers suffered a shock defeat at home to the red hot Sanfrecce Hiroshima over the weekend 1-0. Kashima outplayed Hiroshima for large stretches and could have felt hard done by the result. Mu Kanazaki, their danger men missed a few key opportunities during the game, including a penalty. Kashima Antlers have always competed for the highest honours in the domestic sphere but it is in the regional sphere that they have been deficient. Antlers this season in the Asian Champions League have been excellent with 7 points from a possible 9, outplaying each of their three opponents, Sydney FC, Shanghai Shenhua and Suwon Bluewigs. The draw against Shanghai Shenhua was unfortunate as Kashima fell behind to an early goal by Moreno and could not find a decisive winning goal after obtaining the deserved equaliser. Against Suwon, they demonstrated the ability to dictate tempo and pace in a very hostile environment. Finally, the played their B team against Sydney FC the last week and was rewarded with a well-deserved 2-0 away win at Sydney.
Sydney FC have been head and shoulders above any of their domestic rivals in Australia. They are a whopping 8 points ahead of their closest rivals, Newcastle Jets and have a +37 goal difference after 22 games. That means that they are outscoring their opponents by almost 2 goals every game. Everyone had high hopes for Sydney coming into this season’s ACL. But the story has been the complete opposite of what has been predicted. Sydney FC have a measly one point after 3 games in the group stages of the ACL and have largely flattered to deceive. Against the more technically sound and well drilled Japanese and Korean teams, they have been exposed to the rigours of Asian football and have not risen to the challenge. Their coach in the post-game presser after the 0-2 defeat to Kashima gave the most damning verdict of how Australian teams have a gulf in class against their Asian contemporaries. And this point is made ever so clear by the number of points that Australian teams have garnered in the group stages up to round 3. Out of the possible 27 points, Australia has gotten 4 out of 27 points and even lowly Thailand have garnered more points against their other Asian counterparts.
Kashima Antlers sit pretty atop group H with 7 points and a win would almost guarantee them progress from the group stages. They have the added motivation of putting out some of their starters to ensure that this game is in the bag. Kashima have not been performing up to par in the J League and the tantalising chance to take the remaining 2 group stages games easy after winning this one makes Kashima the clear favourites here by a large margin. Sydney FC just does not have enough in the tank to get any result from this game. A clear and straightforward win for Antlers.
Prediction: Kashima 3 – 0 Sydney FCBets : Kashima (-1) @ 1.81Kashima (Half time/Full Time) 1/1
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