Vissel Kobe coach Takayuki Yoshida says his players embraced their status as Asian Champions League underdogs en route to ousting J1 League leaders Yokohama F Marinos from the Continental Club Championship Thursday. Kobe struggled on the wrong end of the Japanese league standings for much of the season but put his poor form aside to hand Kevin Muscat’s Marinos a 3-2 defeat at Saitama Stadium to secure a place in Saturday’s quarter-final.
“We came here as underdogs, but I told the players that didn’t make it difficult,” Yoshida said. “It meant we had nothing to lose. The players showed that on the pitch and really challenged themselves in this game. From there, I think this game will help us in the two possible games left in this competition and later in the league.”
Kobe has struggled to consistently establish himself among the elite of Japanese and Asian football despite the money lavished on the club by Hiroshi Mikitani, owner of Japanese online retainer Rakuten, for nearly two decades. They are currently third from bottom in the J1 League and have only one trophy – the 2019 Emperor’s Cup – to their name despite regular top signings from Japan and abroad.
Spanish World Cup winner Andres Iniesta is Kobe’s best-known player, but as the 38-year-old’s fitness has become less reliable, injuries and poor form mean other players aren’t failed to lead the team. The constant changes on the touchline haven’t helped either, with Yoshida the club’s fourth manager since the start of the season in mid-February.
Despite these issues, Kobe seized the opportunity against Marinos to put in an effective performance that brought them closer to the Asian title. Kobe will be joined in the quarter-finals by two-time winners Jeonbuk Motors following their 2-1 extra-time win over fellow South Korean side Daegu FC.
Hong Kong’s Kitchee will face Thailand’s BG Pathum United and Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds will meet Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta’zim in the remaining round of 16 on Friday. “It was a tough game for 90 minutes, but we got this result because we played together offensively and defensively and worked hard,” Kobe captain Hotaru Yamaguchi said.
“It really helped us win this game.”
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