News On Japan

Yokohama F. Marinos Triumphs in First Leg of AFC Champions League Final

YOKOHAMA, May 13 (News On Japan) - In the quest to determine Asia's top club team, Yokohama F. Marinos faced off against the United Arab Emirates' Al Ain in the first leg of the AFC Champions League (ACL) final on the evening of the 11th in Yokohama City. Striving for their first championship title, the Marinos turned the game around with a 2-1 victory.

The ACL final is contested in a home-and-away format between F. Marinos and Al Ain, with the aggregate score over two matches determining the champion. The first leg took place at the Marinos' home ground in Yokohama City. The match was fiercely competitive from the outset. In the 12th minute of the first half, the Marinos conceded a goal after allowing an opponent with pace to break through on the left side and deliver a shot that the goalkeeper initially parried, only for the rebound to be pushed into the net. Despite the Marinos pressing forward and taking shots on target, they were unable to score in the first half, trailing 0-1 at the break.

In the second half, while the Marinos maintained possession longer than their opponents, they struggled to create shooting opportunities. However, in the 27th minute, 22-year-old Asahi Uenaka equalized with a header from a cross on the right. Then, in the 39th minute, Kouta Watanabe redirected a teammate's shot in front of the goal, changing its course and scoring. Initially ruled offside, the play was reviewed by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), and the goal was allowed, giving the Marinos a 2-1 comeback victory.

The second leg will take place on May 25th, with the early hours of the 26th in Japan time, at Al Ain's home ground. If F. Marinos can surpass the aggregate score, they will clinch their first-ever championship.

The bond between the team and supporters led to a comeback victory, with over 53,000 supporters filling the stands for this crucial match. Captain Takuya Kida reflected on the win, attributing it to the strong connection between the team and its fans. To date, J.League teams that have won the ACL title include Urawa Reds with three victories, and Gamba Osaka and Kashima Antlers each with one. Yokohama F. Marinos, with five J1 championships and other illustrious achievements, had only reached the round of 16 as their best performance in the ACL. Having battled through a tough semifinal, they finally reached the final. The 29-year-old captain Kida, who joined the Marinos' youth ranks as a child and has played for the club ever since, rallied his teammates before the match, saying, "We've come a long way with many challenges, but if we grit our teeth and trust our teammates, we'll be fine."

In the first leg of the final, the players, backed by the roaring support of the home crowd chanting "Let's win Asia," conceded the first goal but continued to attack with their characteristic offensive strength, scoring twice in the second half to secure a comeback win. Goal-scorer Kouta Watanabe expressed his gratitude to the supporters, saying, "I got goosebumps from the moment we entered the stadium on the bus. I thought we had to win for these people. They created the best atmosphere."

The Marinos, united by the "bond" of players, staff, and supporters, won the first leg at home. Captain Kida remained focused on the next challenge, stating, "We haven't won anything yet. We need to grow from our gains and reflections for the second leg."

Reflecting on the match with over 53,000 supporters, Captain Takuya Kida said, "Seeing all the supporters gathered, I could feel how much everyone wants this title. It would have been easy to panic after conceding the first goal, but we believed that if we stuck to our game, we could turn it around." He emphasized his determination for the second leg, saying, "We haven't won anything yet, so we need to grow in the short time we have before the second leg. We want to seize the championship no matter what."

Asahi Uenaka, who scored the equalizing goal, said, "With so many people coming to watch, we couldn't afford to lose. I'm relieved we won. There were many moments in the first half where a better cross or more aggressive play could have led to a goal. At the moment of scoring, I was determined to dive in front of the goal, and when that perfect ball came, my emotions exploded with joy." He also shared his ambition, having never won a title in his soccer career, "We want to win the second leg firmly and come back to celebrate with everyone, including the supporters."

Kouta Watanabe, who scored the decisive goal, recounted the moment, "I don't remember why I was there or anything about it. I entered the match determined to win with my play, and I'm glad it led to a result. I wasn't sure if it was offside, so all I could do was pray, but I was overjoyed when the goal was confirmed." Looking forward to the second leg, he said, "We've only finished half the battle, so we need to forget we're leading and go into it with the mindset of starting from scratch to win."

Source: NHK

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