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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Yokohama F Marinos Overcome Al-Ain in ACL Final 1st Leg

Appearing in the Asian Champions League final for the first time, Yokohama F Marinos pulled ahead on Kota Watanabe's 84th-minute goal at Nissan Stadium.

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Yokohama F Marinos
Yokohama F Marinos forward Ryo Miyaichi (right) competes against Al-Ain's Abdul Traore in the second half of the first leg of the Asian Champions League final on May 11, 2024, at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama. (KYODO)

Read the full story on SportsLook - [JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Yokohama F Marinos Overcome Al-Ain in ACL Final 1st Leg

Yokohama F Marinos trailed 1-0 against United Arab Emirates foe Al-Ain for the majority of the first leg of the Asian Champions League final on Saturday, May 11.

But the tide turned in the second half. Asahi Uenaka scored a match-tying goal on a 72nd-minute header at Nissan Stadium. Brazilian forward Yan Matheus set him up for a good scoring chance with a quality cross.

Twelve minutes later, Marinos teammate Kota Watanabe, a midfielder, booted the ball into the net past Al-Ain goalkeeper Khalid Eisa. Yokohama's goal was initially called off for offside. But further review on video overruled that decision, and Marinos won 2-1.

Watanabe produced the winning goal by deflecting teammate Ryo Miyaichi's shot from close range.

Yokohama F Marinos
The Asian Champions League trophy is put on display before the match on May 11. (Issei Kato/REUTERS)

The second leg of the ACL final is set for May 25 at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al-Ain, United Arab Emirates.

Marinos manager Harry Kewell cautioned his players to celebrate the win for a short spell before turning their attention to the upcoming match in the UAE.

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"We have to understand that there is another 90 minutes to play and it's going to be very difficult," Kewell was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. "They can enjoy the moment, but there's still a long way to go in this tie."

Yokohama F Marinos
Yokohama F Marinos' Kota Watanabe (center) reacts after scoring the go-ahead goal. (Issei Kato/REUTERS)

Yokohama F Marinos Had the Advantage on Offense

Marinos outshot Al-Ain 18-11 in the first leg and controlled possession for 60% of the match.

Al-Ain grabbed the early lead in the 12th minute, with Mohammed Al Baloushi producing the 1-0 advantage on a counterattack. And Al Baloushi was in the right place at the right time to propel the ball past Marinos 'keeper William Popp

After that, Popp stayed sharp and didn't allow another goal.

More than 70 match minutes later, Miyaichi's well-timed play led to Watanabe's finishing touch.

Looking back on the match, Kewell, who became Marinos manager in December 2023, said his team had an effective overall game.

"I feel we played well tonight. We created a lot of chances in our dangerous areas where we look to hurt teams," Kewell said, according to Kyodo News. 

Yokohama F Marinos
Yokohama F Marinos manager Harry Kewell celebrates after his team's win in the first leg. (Issei Kato/REUTERS)

The Australian-born manager added, "We got caught on the counter, which we knew [was] their threat but we kept our composure."

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Al-Ain won the Asian Champions League title in 2003, and returned with a shot at the title in 2005 and 2016, finishing as runner-up both times.

Continue reading the full story, which includes news items on boxing, horse racing, baseball and more on SportsLook.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven