Sydney FC’s AFC Champions League campaign is in tatters after they slumped to a 3-0 defeat to Kashima Antlers at home on Wednesday.
Sydney were stung by goals from Kashima midfielders Takuya Nozawa and Gabriel, while striker Kohrogi Shinzoh struck in stoppage time to complete the rout as the Sky Blues suffered their first loss at home in the competition.
And it would appear to be a terminal one for their hopes of progressing to the knockout phase of the tournament.
Vitezslav Lavicka’s side remain on two points from their first three group games, three behind top two Kashima and Suwon, but will play their final three matches all on the road.
Sydney tried hard and were constantly looking for ways to unlock the Kashima defence but they clearly missed the creative ability and goal-scoring threat of injured duo Nicky Carle and David Williams.
The victory was the first of the year for Kashima and will bring plenty of joy to their fans back home who have endured a tumultuous time since the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in March.
Both sides had played just one match each in the last month and it showed in a scrappy first half with little in the way of goal-scoring opportunities.
The first 35 minutes were a dour affair with Sydney creating the only genuine chance of note which fell to striker Bruno Cazarine.
The Brazilian got plenty of purchase on his header from Shannon Cole’s corner but unfortunately for the home side just could not direct it on target.
The match then sprung to life four minutes before the break when Kashima took the lead through a move that was started and finished by the impressive Nozawa.
The crafty midfielder fed a nice ball through to Shinzoh in the Sydney box, with the striker easily turning Stephan Keller before cutting the ball back to Gabriel, whose shot was blocked by Liam Reddy – but Nozawa was on hand to put away the rebound.
Sydney almost hit back within a minute when Mark Bridge got a head on Scott Jamieson’s powerful shot but his shot floated agonisingly over the crossbar.
Kashima went 2-0 up just six minutes after the break as Nozawa found space down the right before sending in a pinpoint cross to the far post to an unmarked Gabriel who made no mistake with his header.
Kashima were content to sit back and protect their lead after that and it allowed Sydney to apply some pressure but without seriously threatening Sogahata Hitoshi’s goal.
Youngster Dimitri Petratos did well to pick out Rhyan Grant in the box but the latter could only head wide while Cazarine was having an unhappy night in front of goal wasting a couple of good opportunities.
Kofi Danning added some spark when he came off the bench but when he was denied by some smart keeping by Hitoshi 15 minutes from the end, any hope of a Sky Blues fightback was gone.
The heavy defeat for Sydney was compounded by a left ankle injury to Swiss defender Keller, which will have him in doubt for next week’s clash with Shanghai Shenhua in China.
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