Japan’s Vissel Kobe were made to work hard for their spot in the 2022 AFC Champions League group stage after they were given an almighty scare by Australian giants Melbourne Victory in Tuesday’s qualifying play-off match. Hosting the Big V at the Misaki Park Stadium, Vissel were forced into extra time by the reigning FFA Cup champions before a 95th minute Lincoln strike ensured progression for Atsuhiro Miura’s men.
Vissel had gone off to the perfect start in the 6th minute after Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta managed to get the better out of Matt Acton in the Victory goal, however, six minutes afterward an in-form Nick D’Agostino drew things level for the Australians.
D’Agostino, nicknamed “Daggers” by the Australian footballing fraternity, completed his brace in the 71st minute to leave the Misaki Park Stadium utterly silenced before the Vissel faithful went up to their feet in the 80th minute after Yuya Osako scored the hosts’ equalizer.
Osako then gave Vissel the lead in the 87th minute and it seems that Vissel had managed to see off the Vuck for a spot in the ACL group stages – until Ben Folami forced extra time with his 90th minute equalizer.
With the scores tied at 3-3, it was substitute Lincoln who managed to break Victory hearts five minutes into extra time, firing past Acton for what turned out to be the winning goal.
Joining Group J alongside Chinese giants Shanghai Port, reigning Thai FA Cup winners Leo Chiangrai United, and Hong Kong titans Kitchee, Vissel will hope to at least match their semifinal appearance in 2020 or even go the extra mile further.
2020 ACL winners Ulsan Hyundai also book themselves a spot in the group stages after powering through Thailand’s Port FC 3-0 at the Ulsan Munsu Stadium – adding more to the Lions of Khlong Toei’s woes as they have only won once in their past 13 games in all competitions, a wretched run that saw Port’s hopes for silverware in all fronts being extinguished.
Port’s compatriots Buriram United fared slightly better but were ultimately heartbroken as they were eliminated by Daegu FC on penalties after a 1-1 draw. Jonathan Bolingi had given Buriram the lead in the last minute of extra time before Cesinha forced penalties only seconds afterward with his equalizer. Ultimately penalty misses from both Theerathon Bunmathan and Bolingi ensured that Daegu – coached by former Buriram head coach Alexandre Gama – would book themselves a spot in the ACL group stages for the third time in four years.
Over in the West Zone, Uzbek giants Nasaf Qarshi managed to win 2-0 away at Baniyas of the United Arab Emirates, ensuring a first ACL group stage appearance since 2018 for the Dragons. Nasaf’s ACL qualification meant that last year’s Uzbek top-flight runners-up Sogdiana Jizzakh are set to make their continental debut in this year’s AFC Cup, taking over Nasaf’s slot in the competition.
There were also wins for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Taawoun and the UAE’s Sharjah, who eliminated Syrian giants Al-Jaish and Iraqi side Al-Zawraa on penalties respectively to qualify into the ACL group stages.