Western Sydney Wanderers’ hopes of progressing in the AFC Champions League suffered a major blow as they lost 2-1 at home to Kashima Antlers on Tuesday. The holders led through Nikita Rukavytsya’s goal in the first half at Pirtek Stadium, but an onslaught after the break from the J-League side resulted in the visitors levelling the scores with 24 minutes to go and then snatching all three points in injury time. The result sees Kashima move onto six points in Group H, while the Wanderers remain on five points from five matches played. Tony Popovic and his players, who were level on points with FC Seoul going into this game, must wait on the result of the South Korean team’s match away to leaders Guangzhou Evergrande to assess their chances of progressing to the round of 16. The A-League strugglers face the Chinese Super League heavyweights away from home on matchday six next month.
The first real chance of the game arrived in the seventh minute, when Rukavytsya fired an effort across the face of goal, forcing goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata to tip the ball behind for a corner.
That remained the best opportunity for either team until the hosts opened the scoring on 24 minutes. Naomichi Ueda failed to clear Yojiro Takahagi’s pass into the penalty area and Rukavytsya gratefully accepted possession. This time he left Sogahata with no chance, dispatching a strong finish into the far side-netting.
The visitors appeared set to equalise three minutes later when a cross fell to Shuto Yamamoto unmarked at the back post, but his weak header was pushed onto the bar by Ante Covic.
Kashima had a penalty shout turned down eight minutes before half-time when Covic spilled Gaku Shibasaki’s long-range shot and then felled Mu Kanazaki inside the area as the veteran keeper rushed out to smother the rebound.
Kerem Bulut meanwhile saw a long-range drive sail narrowly over the bar and Romeo Castelen blazed wildly over from a decent opening, while Daigo Nishi had a fierce effort from distance blocked in an entertaining opening 45 minutes.
Nishi, rampaging forward from right-back, created a succession of presentable chances for the away team early in the second half, Kanazaki and Brazilian Caio failing to take advantage.
They kept piling on the pressure though and were finally rewarded with a deserved equaliser in the 66th minute. As the Wanderers pushed out after clearing a corner, a quick ball back in released Doi and he curled a cool low finish beyond the reach of Covic.
It looked as if both teams would be forced to settle for a share of the spoils until the Japanese outfit pounced in time added on. Yamamoto advanced down the left flank and played a good pass to the feet of Kanazaki, who had missed a hatful of chances throughout the contest. This time though he made no mistake, poking the ball past Covic at the goalkeeper’s near post.