Having took on Chinese opposition in their AFC Champions League restarts, Japan’s representatives in the competition once again took on the same opponents for their second game after the restart. Interestingly enough, the outcome of those games are the exact opposite of what had happened in the first set of games – Vissel Kobe and Yokohama F. Marinos, who beat Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao and Shanghai SIPG respectively on November 25th, ended up being beaten by their Chinese opponents on Saturday, while FC Tokyo, who succumbed to a 1-0 loss at the hands of Shanghai Greenland Shenhua on November 24th, managed to exact revenge over their opponents and emerged out 2-1 winners on Friday.
Once again taking on Shenhua at the Education City Stadium in the Qatari capital of Doha, FC Tokyo went on the offensive straight away, with Diego Oliveira squandering a Keigo Higashi cross after just three minutes to declare his side’s intent in taking charge of the game. Fellow Brazilian Leandro then unleashed a powerful drive from his left foot after brilliantly nutmegging his marker, only for a combination of Shenhua goalkeeper Li Shuai and the crossbar to deny the former Kashima Antlers man. However, those were the only highlights of an admittedly tepid first half, which ended in a goalless stalemate.
FC Tokyo then endured a rough few opening minutes of the second half, losing Oliveira to injury in the 50th minute before surviving a Yu Hanchao volley that was tipped behind by goalkeeper Go Hatano. However, the Gasmen’s ship was steadied slightly after the hour-mark, when Leandro curled a Higashi through pass into Shuai’s net to give FC Tokyo the all-important lead.
Shuto Abe then sent FC Tokyo into smoother waters in the 82nd minute, latching onto a pass from substitute Taichi Hara before slotting the ball past Shuai to give his side a 2-0 lead. Colombia international Giovanni Moreno then pulled one back for Shenhua in the 86th minute but it was too little too late for the Chinese Super League side as FC Tokyo survived a nervy last few minutes of the match to clinch all three points with the 2-1 win. The result kept FC Tokyo’s hopes of progression to the knockouts alive, with the Gasmen now sitting nicely in 2nd place of Group F with 7 points. A win over group leaders Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea on Monday would surely make inch FC Tokyo closer into the last 16.
Saturday’s ACL action saw already-qualified Vissel once again taking on Guangzhou at the Al-Wakrah Sports Complex, with the latter seeking to break a 7-match winless hoodoo in the ACL. Guangzhou, who were competing with Suwon Samsung Bluewings for the one remaining ticket out of Group G, knew that they had to win on Saturday to keep their heads well above water, and a win is what they duly did.
Anderson Talisca opened the scoring for the South China Tigers in the 17th minute through a penalty that he had won, after the former SL Benfica man was fouled inside the area by Vissel defender Hirofumi Watanabe. The Brazilian made no mistake and he smashed home his penalty past Vissel goalie Hiroki Iikura to give Guangzhou the lead.
Guangzhou kept banging on Vissel’s doors after Talisca’s opener and Iikura once again gave way in the 36th minute, the veteran goalkeeper unable to save a wonderfully-taken free-kick from Ai Kesen. Despite Vissel’s best efforts in chasing the game, there were no denying Guangzhou this time and Fabio Cannavaro’s men managed to break their duck with the 2-0 win, setting up a mouthwatering clash for 2nd place against Suwon on Tuesday.
The Al-Wakrah Sports Complex then welcome another Japanese team a few hours after Vissel’s defeat, with 2019 J.League 1 champions Yokohama taking on Shenhua’s city rivals SIPG. Yokohama had won 3 out of their previous 3 ACL games and are looking to make it 4 in a row to ensure progression to the last 16, while SIPG were looking to keep their own qualifying hopes alive and avenge their 1-0 defeat at the hands of their opponents on November 24th.
The encounter between the two East Asian giants proved to be a lively affair and it was Vitor Pereira’s SIPG who took the lead in the 15th minute. Chen Binbin swung in a cross from the left wing that was met by a powerful header by Cai Huikang, with Yokohama goalkeeper Powell Obinna Obi powerless to stop the incoming ball.
Ange Postecoglou knew that his men must deliver a response after SIPG’s opener and a response is exactly what Yokohama delivered. Ado Onaiwu was unable to direct his shot properly from close range shortly after SIPG’s goal, however the Nigerian-Japanese striker made amends for it in the 25th minute, sweeping a Teruhito Nakagawa cross past SIPG goalkeeper Chen Wei to restore parity.
Unfortunately for Yokohama, SIPG reclaimed the lead in the 55th minute. Brazilian Ricardo Lopes dribbled his way past two Yokohama defenders before playing a brilliant one-two with countryman Oscar. Former Chelsea midfielder Oscar then sent Lopes on his way, with the striker making no mistake with his calm finish that left Powell stranded. 2-1 SIPG and the Chinese giants did not relinquish their lead this time out.
The win meant that SIPG now share the summit of Group H with Yokohama, the two teams both having 9 points but Yokohama got the privilege of sitting on top of the group by virtue of goal difference. Both Yokohama and SIPG can seal progression out of the group by beating Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Sydney FC respectively on Tuesday.