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AFC Champions League

Still long way to go in this tie, says Yokohama boss Harry Kewell after Al Ain triumph in ACL final first leg

Published at :May 12, 2024 at 7:08 PM
Modified at :May 12, 2024 at 7:08 PM
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(Courtesy : AFC Media)

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Harry Kewell spoke highly of how his players didn’t give up after conceding first.

Harry Kewell praised his side’s resilience as Yokohama F Marinos came back from going a goal down to defeat Al Ain 2-1 in the first leg of the AFC Champions League 2023/24 final at Yokohama International Stadium on Saturday, the result giving the J1 League side a slender advantage ahead of the second leg.

Goals from Asahi Uenaka and Kota Watanabe in the final 18 minutes saw Yokohama turn the game on its head after Mohammed Abbas had given Al Ain a 12th minute lead and the result means the Japanese side will go into the second leg on May 25 as slight favourites to lift the trophy for the first time.

“I’m happy with the way we performed,” said Kewell. “We didn’t lose our discipline. We were a bit sloppy in the second half, but I felt overall we were dominating, especially in a lot of the advanced areas of the pitch.

“We knew we were always going to be susceptible to the counter attack and Al Ain’s first goal was well worked, came out of nothing and caught us on the back foot.

“But I give my players credit, they worked hard throughout the entire game. They didn’t take their foot off the pedal. They drove Al Ain into the ground with their passing and with their movement but we couldn’t get that goal at the start. But we kept our discipline and I felt we got our rewards in the end.”

Yokhama dominated possession and created the majority of chances throughout the 90 minutes of the tie but it was Abbas who opened the scoring from close range in the 12th minute to leave the home needing to turn their superiority into goals.

Their first came in the 72nd minute when Uenaka powered his header past Khalid Eisa from Yan Matheus’ cross and Watanabe hit the winner with six minutes remaining when he redirected Ryo Miyaichi’s mishit shot past the Al Ain goalkeeper.

The goals leave the clash evenly poised going into the second leg at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in two weeks’ time, and Kewell has no intention of allowing his players to rest on their laurels after the opening win.

“I’m happy at this moment but I know in this game it can be taken away from you so quickly,” he said. “Again, we have to understand there’s another 90 minutes to be played and it’s going to be very difficult.

“This is the challenge I set my team, we set ourselves and we look forward to that. We have to concentrate, we have to work hard and tidy up in a few areas. They can enjoy the moment but there’s still a long way to go in this tie.”

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