Kewell's Yokohama edge Crespo's Al Ain in Asian Champions League final first leg

AFP , Saturday 11 May 2024

Harry Kewell's Yokohama F-Marinos fought back to claim a narrow Asian Champions League final advantage over Hernan Crespo's Al Ain on Saturday with a 2-1 first-leg win in Japan.

Yokohama vs. Al Ain
Yokohama's Japanese player Kota Watanabe (centre R) celebrates his goal during the AFC Champions League final first leg football match between UAE's Al Ain and Japan's Yokohama F. Marinos at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, Kanagawa prefecture, south of Tokyo, on May 11, 2024. Photo: AFP


Mohammed Abbas scored in the 12th minute for United Arab Emirates side Al Ain but Yokohama's Asahi Uenaka levelled midway through the second half before substitute Kota Watanabe grabbed the winner six minutes from time.

The second leg will be played in the UAE in a fortnight's time.

Kewell and Crespo were meeting as coaches almost 20 years after facing each other as players in the UEFA Champions League final in Istanbul.

Crespo was part of the AC Milan side that took a 3-0 half-time lead before Kewell's Liverpool famously came back to draw 3-3 and then win on penalties.

Kewell has led Yokohama to their first Champions League final only four months after taking over at the Japanese club.

Al Ain are the UAE's most successful club and they are playing in the final for the fourth time, having won it in 2002 and reached the decider in 2005 and 2016.

Yokohama made a bright start in front of almost 55,000 home fans and Elber and Yan Matheus both had attempts at goal within the first five minutes.

But Al Ain threw a spanner in the works with the opening goal just over five minutes later when Abbas stuffed home the rebound after goalkeeper William Popp had denied Soufiane Rahimi.

The UAE side thought they had scored a second in the 30th minute when Matias Palacios fired the ball between Popp's legs, only for a VAR check to rule it out for offside.

Yokohama had several chances to get back on level terms and Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Eisa had to tip a Takuya Kida shot onto the crossbar with one of them.

Nam Tae-hee then missed a gilt-edged opportunity in first-half injury time with the goal at his mercy.

Yokohama were much scrappier in the second half but they got their equaliser when Matheus's cross picked out Uenaka to head home in the 72nd minute.

Yokohama substitute Watanabe put the ball in the net again in the 84th minute only to be flagged for offside.

But the goal was allowed to stand after a VAR check, giving Yokohama a precious lead to take into the second leg.

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