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AFC Champions League

AFC Champions League Final: Yokohama enjoy slender advantage over Al Ain before second leg

Published at :May 11, 2024 at 8:19 PM
Modified at :May 11, 2024 at 8:19 PM
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(Courtesy : AFC Media)

Khel Now


The second leg of the AFC Champions League final will be played on 25 May.

Kouta Watanabe struck six minutes from time as Yokohama F Marinos came back from a goal down to seal a 2-1 win over Al Ain in the first leg of the AFC Champions League 2023/24 final on Saturday that ensures the J1 League side will take a slender lead into the second leg in the United Arab Emirates in two weeks’ time.

Watanabe pounced from close range after teammate Asahi Uenaka had earlier cancelled out Mohammed Abbas’s 12th minute opener at Yokohama International Stadium as the Japanese club chase their first-ever AFC Champions League title in their clash with the 2002-03 title winners.

The teams will meet again at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on May 25 with the winners taking Asia’s fourth and final berth at the newly expanded FIFA Club World Cup in the United States next year.

Harry Kewell’s side dominated possession throughout but operated under the threat of the counterattacking abilities of an Al Ain side that had seen off Saudi Pro League outfits Al Nassr and Al Hilal in the previous two rounds.

Brazilian Elber carried the initial threat for Marinos, firing high and wide with his early effort after cutting in from the left, with the winger also at the heart of a slick sixth minute move that ended when Yan Matheus’ rising shot narrowly cleared the crossbar.

But in the 12th minute Al Ain hit the hosts with a sucker punch, Soufiane Rahimi finding a way past Carlos Eduardo and, while his shot was saved by William Popp, Abbas made no mistake when he slotted in the rebound.

At the other end Anderson Lopes was becoming more involved, forcing Eisa into action in the 19th minute before outmuscling Park Yong-woo to shoot over the bar from the edge of the penalty area six minutes later.

The home side continued to probe, Eisa throwing himself at full-stretch to his right to keep out Uenaka’s drive and Elber sending the ball across an unguarded goal.

Al Ain were denied a second after another promising break on the half hour when Mathias Palacios’ shot slipped past Popp, the strike eventually ruled out for offside upon review by the VAR officials.

While Al Ain sought to catch Marinos on the counter, the hosts pressed for the equaliser and Eisa grew ever busier, keeping out Takuya Kida’s low effort, the ball looping into the air to clip the crossbar and bouncing over for a corner.

A second half of few chances came to life with 18 minutes remaining as Marinos pulled level. Matheus moved into the penalty from the right and delivered a curling left-foot cross that found Uenaka unmarked 10 yards from goal, his header easily beating Eisa.

And with six minutes remaining Marinos took the lead, Watanabe slotting in after Ryo Miyaichi redirected Matheus’ cross into the substitute’s path. While the goal was initially ruled out for offside, the VAR review overturned the decision and the Japanese will take an advantage to Al Ain.

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