Doha (AFP) – Japan’s Vissel Kobe edged out 10-man Suwon Bluewings 7-6 in a sudden-death penalty shootout to reach the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League on their first appearance in the tournament on Thursday.
Andres Iniesta’s side will now meet another South Korean side, Ulsan Hyundai Motors, on Sunday.
The winners will take on Iran’s Persepolis in the title match on December 19 to bring the curtain down on a hectic tournament that was revived in a truncated format in September after the Covid-19 pandemic brought a halt to proceedings in February.
Iniesta sat out most of Thursday’s match with a thigh strain but still made an impact by scoring in the penalties after coming on as a substitute in the 113th minute to help see his side through with his third goal for Vissel Kobe at the Asian level.
Suwon were 1-0 up through a headed goal by Park Sang-hyeok in the seventh minute but Kyogo Furuhashi equalized four minutes before the break with a brilliant free-kick through the wall after Douglas had confused the Suwon defence by pretending to go for the shot.
Suwon’s Kim Tae-hwan was red-carded in the 38th minute after he brought down Daigo Nishi just outside the box.
Both teams wasted several scoring opportunities as the match headed into extra-time and then the shootout at the Al Janoub Stadium.
The decisive moment came after the teams were tied 6-6 in the shootout when Suwon’s Kang Ho-ik inexplicably drove his shot well over.
As Kang’s teammates consoled him on one part of the ground, Noriaki Fujimoto coolly slotted the ball home to score the winner for Vissel Kobe.
“I am happy that my team won but I also congratulate the Suwon players who really worked hard and gave us a tough time,” said Vissel Kobe coach Atsuhiro Miura.
Earlier, Junior Negrao struck two first-half goals and goalkeeper Jo Su-Huk came up with a series of saves as Ulsan powered through to the semi-finals with a gripping 2-0 win over Beijing Guoan.
Both teams had cruised into the last-eight phase of the competition unbeaten, but it was Ulsan who continued their hot streak by winning their seventh successive match since landing in Qatar last month.
They also stayed on course to claim the title for the second time.
Ulsan first achieved the feat in 2012 when they outclassed Beijing twice in the group stage during a nine-game winning run that culminated in their 3-0 victory over Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli in the final.
“It was a very important win and I am happy that we got the result and showed our quality throughout the match,” said Ulsan coach Kim do-hoon.
Negrao had come to Doha with a huge reputation, having scored 26 goals in 27 matches in the K League this year to finish as the top-scorer by a considerable distance.
But the 33-year-old Brazilian started in just three games as Ulsan coach Kim do-hoon preferred others such as Yoon Bit-garam.
On Thursday though he again proved their mainstay, first scoring from the penalty spot in the 21st minute after Beijing’s South Korean star Kim Min-jae handled the ball inside the area.
– Negrao bullet –
Beijing went close a few minutes later when Jonathan Veira’s powerful drive from just outside the box was punched away to safety by Jo Su-huk, one of at least 10 saves by the Ulsan goalkeeper on a busy day.
Negrao struck for the second time in the 42nd minute with a 30-yard bullet, the ball thundering into the net despite Beijing goalkeeper Hou Sen’s full-stretch diving effort.
“We missed the last touch a bit. The factor that decided the match was efficiency inside the box. We committed a couple of mistakes and they punished us,” said Beijing coach Bruno Genesio, clearly frustrated that his team could not win despite enjoying 61 percent possession.
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