Japan’s Vissel Kobe managed to continue their AFC Champions League run after outlasting Suwon Samsung Bluewings of South Korea in Thursday’s quarterfinal. Atsuhiro Miura’s Vissel managed to recover from an early setback at the Al-Wakrah Sports Complex to draw Suwon 1-1, a result that lasted all the way into both full-time and the end of extra-time, before the men from Hyogo Prefecture managed to keep their nerves as cool as steel by winning the ensuing penalty shootout 7-6. This ensured that Vissel would set up a date at the Al-Wakrah with Suwon’s countrymen in Ulsan Hyundai in December 13th’s semifinal clash.
Going on the offensive right from the start of Thursday’s late kick-off, Suwon managed to drew first blood as early as the 7th minute. A cross from Ko Seung-beom was met by a powerful header from Park Sang-hyeok, with the ball bouncing off the ground slightly on its way into Daiya Maekawa’s goal.
Despite without talismanic striker Adam Taggart – who was left out of Suwon’s ACL squad prior to the competition’s restart – Suwon remained dangerous with their fully Korean squad, keeping Vissel – without their influential captain Andres Iniesta in the starting lineup due to a knock that he received on Monday’s last 16 match – at bay throughout the early stages of the first half.
However, momentum shifted into Vissel’s favor in the 38th minute, when Daigo Nishi was fouled deep in Suwon territory by Kim Tae-hwan. The referee initially gave Vissel a penalty and Tae-hwan a yellow card, however after consulting the video assistant referee (VAR), it was discovered that Nishi was fouled just outside the penalty box and Tae-hwan had obstructed a clear goalscoring opportunity. This prompted the referee to revoke Vissel’s penalty, awarding them a free-kick instead, while Tae-hwan’s yellow card was changed into a straight red, forcing the 20-year old to go for an early shower.
Despite being denied their penalty, Vissel grabbed the opportunity presented to them by the free-kick with both hands, as Kyogo Furuhashi drilled in a powerful drive from the free-kick that went past Suwon goalie Yang Hyung-mo to restore parity.
The second half saw Vissel trying their best to seize the numerical advantage, with stand-in captain Hotaru Yamaguchi testing Yang and Douglas missing a close-ranged header 30 minutes into the second 45. Try as Vissel might, Suwon managed to defend themselves in quite discipline to retain the 1-1 scoreline into full-time, thus forcing extra-time.
The additional 30 minutes saw Vissel trying to throw everything that they had at Suwon’s wall, with Furuhashi and Douglas squandering chances that could’ve allow Vissel to kill the game off. Suwon were also guilty of their missed chances as well, with Kim Min-woo seeing his volley being cleared off the line by Hotaru and Ko having his shot smacking the goalpost despite already beating Maekawa beforehand.
With the scoreline still stuck at 1-1 after 120 minutes of football, Vissel and Suwon’s duel would have to be decided by a penalty shootout.
Suwon received dibs for the first penalty, with substitute Kim Gun-hee making good use of the advantage to put Suwon ahead. Iniesta, introduced in the 113th minute by Miura, made no mistake from the spot for Vissel, despite wincing in pain afterwards as he hasn’t fully recovered from his knock yet. Lee Ki-jae and Douglas then scored their respective penalties for their teams, before Min-woo and Ryo Hatsuse dispatched their third with confidence. The run continues with both Ko and Furuhashi, meaning that after four kickers, the scores were tied at 4-4.
Han Suk-jong then put Suwon 5-4 ahead, however Hotaru slammed home Vissel’s fifth, sending the shootout into sudden death.
Maekawa got his hand onto Min Sang-gi’s sixth, however despite his best efforts the ball went in anyway, giving Suwon the 6-5 advantage. Much to Vissel’s relief, Tetsushi Yamakawa kept the boys from Hyogo Prefecture alive in the shootout by scoring Vissel’s sixth.
Jang Ho-ik then sent his penalty into row zed, setting up the stage for Noriaki Fujimoto to bury Vissel’s seventh – the winning penalty in a long shootout.
As Vissel celebrated their maiden ACL run with a semifinal date on December 13th, a tough task will await Miura’s men as they will take on 2012 ACL champions Ulsan, the only unbeaten team left in the tournament’s East Zone.
The early kick-off saw Ulsan taking on fellow unbeaten side Beijing Sinobo Guoan at the Al-Wakrah and the Koreans managed to steamroll their Chinese opposition 2-0. Former Muangthong United and Pattaya United striker Junior Negrao was instrumental in Ulsan’s victory, scoring a VAR-awarded penalty in the 21st minute before rounding off his brace with stunning 30-yard strike that left Beijing goalkeeper Hou Sen utterly speechless in the 42nd minute.
The winners of December 13th’s semifinal between Ulsan and Vissel will take on Iran’s Persepolis FC at the Al-Wakrah on December 19th to decide who will emerge victorious in this year’s ACL.