J.League 1's very own Vissel Kobe became the first East Asian team to book their spot in the 2020 AFC Champions League round of 16 after dispatching Chinese Super League giants Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao 3-1 at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar on Wednesday. The three points meant that Vissel have total command of Group G, with the men from Hyogo Prefecture five points above 2nd placed Suwon Samsung Bluewings and 3rd placed Guangzhou.
Johor Darul Ta'zim's withdrawal from the 2020 ACL due to the Malaysian government's strict COVID-19 enforced border policies preventing them from going to Qatar played well into Vissel's advantage. Despite their 5-1 win over the Southern Tigers now declared null and void, Vissel did eke out a 1-0 win away at Suwon all the way back in February and the fact that both Suwon and Guangzhou played out a 0-0 draw on October 22nd at the Khalifa gave Atsuhiro Miura's men the advantage that they needed. Win against Guangzhou on Wednesday and a ticket to the knockout stages is as good as theirs.
With the match seemingly heading towards a goalless draw going into half-time, Vissel managed to drew blood first. The nation of Qatar used to witness the brilliance of Spanish midfielder Xavi during the twilight years of his playing days with Al-Sadd and this time the people of the Gulf nation, albeit from their television screens, were able to witness Xavi's midfield partner at FC Barcelona crafting magic of his own. It was indeed Andres Iniesta who contributed massively to Vissel's opener, cutting back towards Kyogo Furuhashi who managed to slot the ball home past Guangzhou goalkeeper Liu Dianzuo.
Guangzhou were clearly surprised by Furuhashi's goal, which completed a trifecta of misfortune that the Chinese giants has been experiencing throughout the first half. Guangzhou were left limping after captain Zhang Linpeng went off with an injury after just 10 minutes, before the 2020 Chinese Super League runners-up squandered two excellent chances to assume control of the match after both Wei Shihao and Luo Guofu (the newly naturalized identity of Brazilian-born striker Aloisio) had failed to break their way into Daiya Maekawa's goal. And Furuhashi's goal meant that Guangzhou are now on the back-foot for the second half - something that the 2-time ACL champions wouldn't accept lightly.
Immediately Guangzhou head coach Fabio Cannavaro made three changes to his side - Xu Xin for Yang Dinghao, Gao Late (also known as Brazilian-born attacking midfielder Ricardo Goulart) for Guofu, and He Chao for Liao Lisheng. The changes were coupled with Guangzhou intensifying their offensive pressure in the second half.
Ai Kesen (formerly known as Brazilian-born striker Elkeson) almost leveled up the scoreline for Guangzhou with an effort that struck the crossbar, however ten minutes after the start of the second half the South China Tigers managed to drew level. Former SL Benfica man Anderson Talisca made a looping attempt as Guangzhou pushed forward once again and this time the Brazilian managed to force Furuhashi to divert the ball into his own net. 1-1, and Guangzhou has finally gotten their equalizer.
With the scoreline now level, Guangzhou kept on pushing forward as they tried to turn things into their favor. Talisca threatened Maekawa in the Vissel goal twice as Guangzhou flexed their offensive power, but once again the pendulum found itself swinging back in Vissel's favor as the reigning 2019 Emperor's Cup champions managed to regain the lead in the 74th minute.
Substitute Douglas received an excellent back-heeled pass from Daigo Nishi, before the Brazilian raced his way into the Guangzhou defense and fired off a cannonball that went past Dianzuo and into the near post, reclaiming the lead for Vissel.
Immediately Guangzhou went into the offensive right away once again and in the 82nd minute Kesen managed to put the ball beyond Maekawa's reaches, but his celebrations were cut short as his supposed equalizer was ruled out for offside. Instead, it was Vissel who claimed insurance for all three points two minutes afterwards - captain Iniesta had his initial effort blocked but managed to bend the rebound into the top corner, cementing Vissel's 3-1 win and with it, a ticket to the ACL knockouts.
Yokohama F. Marinos were also playing on Wednesday, taking on another Chinese Super League side Shanghai SIPG at the Al-Wakrah Sports Complex. Ange Postecoglou's Yokohama, who had won their previous two Group H games, managed to eke out a 1-0 victory over the Chinese giants, thanks to a combination of a last minute goal from substitute Jun Amano and an excellent performance between the sticks from Nigerian-Japanese goalkeeper Powell Obinna Obi, with the youngster denying a late penalty from former Chelsea midfielder Oscar in his continental debut.