Football Tribe SEA Editor
Japan’s finest will take the continental stage once again as the second matchday of the 2020 AFC Champions League group stages is upon us. Today and tomorrow, both Yokohama F. Marinos and Vissel Kobe are eager to continue their strong start to the competition, while FC Tokyo will try their best to set aside their Matchday 1 disappointments as they aim to jumpstart their continental campaign in the best way possible. Here’s a quick preview of this week’s ACL action for the J.League’s representatives.
FC Tokyo (JPN) vs Perth Glory (AUS) – February 18th
As the sole J.League team playing today, FC Tokyo will sail into uncharted territory as they take on ACL debutants Perth Glory of Australia. Perth qualified for their maiden continental competition after winning the 2018-19 A-League regular season and head coach Tony Popovic is a man who is all too familiar to the ACL – he was the mastermind behind Western Sydney Wanderers’ ACL win in 2014. The Glory also has a formidable attacking lineup, with the likes of Bruno Fornaroli, Nicholas D’Agostino, and Joel Chianese forming a formidable trident up-front. Said trident will come even more formidable of Chianese is replaced by Spanish veteran Diego Castro, who has been Perth’s talisman in recent years. FC Tokyo’s defense, marshaled by Sei Muroya, Ryoya Ogawa, Tsuyoshi Watanabe, and Masato Morishige, will have to be at their best if they want to repel this fearsome attacking trio. With Kensuke Nagai still out injured, FC Tokyo head coach Kenta Hasegawa will have to rely on his Brazilian trio for his attack, with Diego Oliveira lining up together with Leandro and Adailton, with the latter hopefully shaking off the ghosts of Matchday 1 where his late own-goal pretty much costed FC Tokyo all three points at Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea. Having drawn 1-1 against Ulsan last time out, FC Tokyo will be eager to jumpstart their continental campaign with three points against Perth at the Ajinomoto Stadium, however with their Matchday 1 game against Shanghai Greenland Shenhua being postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, Perth will be eager to show that they can rub shoulders with the big boys in their proper ACL debut. Expect an exciting encounter between two teams that are eager to display all-out attacking football!
Yokohama F. Marinos (JPN) vs Sydney FC (AUS) – February 19th
Reigning J.League 1 champions Yokohama F. Marinos are eager to continue their winning start to their ACL campaign as they take on 2018-19 A-League Grand Final winners Sydney FC at the Nissan Stadium. Ange Postecoglou’s Yokohama was impressive last time out, effectively beating South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at their own backyard with a 2-1 scoreline. The final score of that match did not reflect on how Yokohama had thoroughly humiliated the Korean champions in front of their own fans, and some say Ange’s men could’ve won by a bigger margin. However said win would boost Yokohama’s confidence significantly as they take on a Sydney FC side coached by Ange’s countryman Steve Corica. It will be an interesting duel between two of Australia’s finest head coaches, with Yokohama going into the game with their strongest possible squad – bar main goalkeeper Park Iru-gyu who was left out of Yokohama’s ACL squad due to the competition’s limitation on Asian players (with Yokohama already adding Thai defender Theerathon Bunmathan into the ACL squad). Sydney, on the other hand, will be deprived of their star attacking midfielder Milos Ninkovic, who was left out of the Sky Blues’ ACL squad due to the competition’s foreign players quota, a somewhat similar case to Yokohama and Park’s. Alexander Baumjohann will have to do his best in deputizing Ninkovic if Sydney are to nick a point or three out of this tough encounter. And while Yokohama are a formidable side, Sydney will have the advantage of having a more refreshed squad, having not played their Matchday 1 tie against China’s Shanghai SIPG due to the coronavirus outbreak. An intriguing encounter will be on the cards, as Corica will try his best to outsmart his senior Ange in the dugout.
Suwon Samsung Bluewings (KOR) vs Vissel Kobe (JPN) – February 19th
Following a strong debut to the ACL with a 5-1 dismantlement of Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim in Matchday 1, the real acid test for Vissel Kobe’s continental credentials will come tomorrow with a daunting trip to South Korea. Thorsten Fink’s Vissel will square off against hosts Suwon Samsung Bluewings at the Suwon World Cup Stadium, in what promises to be the perfect opportunity for Vissel to announce their continental ambitions. With Suwon several steps above Johor in terms of difficulty, this is where Vissel’s dreams of conquering Asia and the world will be truly tested, facing off against a Suwon side that bears a menacing figure in attack – Australian Adam Taggart, the top scorer of the 2019 K-League 1 season. The coronavirus outbreak also played into Suwon’s advantage, as their postponed Matchday 1 game against Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao allowed Lee Lim-saeng’s men to have some additional time to prepare for Vissel’s visit. However, Vissel should be confident coming into this tie, with both Kyogo Furuhashi and Keijiro Ogawa firing all cylinders in their demolition of Johor, while Andres Iniesta should once again provide some magic within Vissel’s midfield. New signing Douglas is also ready to deal some damage into the Suwon backline after an impressive performance against Johor, while the likes of Thomas Vermaelen, Gotoku Sakai, Daigo Nishi and Reo Osaki will have the unenviable task of stopping the deadly Taggart in his tracks. Tomorrow’s match will prove whether Vissel have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the big boys of the ACL or not.