2018 AFC Champions League, Group Stage
  • Mu Kanazaki (27')
  • Matthew Simon (70')

Sydney FC snatch vital Asian Champions League draw in Kashima

Sydney FC players celebrate after scoring against Kashima Antlers. Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images

Matt Simon broke his two-year goal drought to give Sydney FC's disastrous Asian Champions League campaign a lifeline.

The Sky Blues drew 1-1 with Group H leaders Kashima Antlers in Japan on Tuesday night, falling behind to another set piece before a stirring second-half fightback paved the way for Simon's 70th-minute equaliser.

It was the striker's first ACL goal in nine years and one that could yet help the reigning A-League champions return from the brink.

That will depend how second-placed Suwon Bluewings fare against third-placed Shanghai Shenhua later on matchday four.

With two home defeats, two away draws and an unenviable goal difference, Sydney's chances of progressing from dead last remain slim, and Alex Brosque will rue skewing a shot agonisingly wide with 15 minutes remaining.

"I thought we were the better side, we deserved to win the game," Graham Arnold said.

"Disappointing to concede off a set piece again. Kashima have scored three goals against us, all three from corners -- not a goal in general play."

Arnold wasn't lying when he said he would play some youngsters in the absence of regular stars Milos Ninkovic, Bobo, Michael Zullo and Brandon O'Neill, handing Chris Zuvela his competitive debut and Anthony Kalik his first start.

Judging by the sheer youth of Sydney's bench -- only Charles Lokolingoy had played a single A-League minute this season -- Arnold was prepared to sacrifice what sliver of continental hope remained in favour of seeing out his side's domestic domination before departing to coach the Socceroos.

For all that, it was two senior players at fault for Kashima's opener off a corner just before the half-hour mark.

A defensive mix-up between Brosque and Josh Brillante saw the latter head straight to Mu Kanazaki, who met the ball flush with his own head and didn't miss at the far post.

That blunder aside, the first-half incarnation of Sydney were far from uncomfortable but, though they pushed and probed, were mostly pedestrian in attack.

Adrian Mierzejewski carved a rare opening just before the break, flooding forward and playing in Kalik, but the 20-year-old's finish let him down.

With an hour gone and everything to do, Arnold introduced Lokolingoy and the Sky Blues sparked.

It pre-empted Mierzejewski's next foray and the Polish winger, overlooked on Tuesday for an international recall, passed to Luke Wilkshire.

The full-back's cross was spot on and Simon headed home, just in time to earn his second yellow card of the tournament and a suspension for matchday five.

It may not have ended there, and Brosque's tight-angled finish practically brushed the outside of the far post before Simon came close and Leo Silva missed a late shot for the hosts.

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