Kiwi coach Kewell ‘overcomes Korean Tigers’.

“Sending-offs made it difficult, but proud of players for winning”

After defeating Ulsan HD to reach the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League final, Yokohama F. Marinos (JPN) head coach Harry Kewell says he is proud of his players for coming from behind to win.

Yokohama reached the final after a penalty shootout victory over Ulsan in the ACL quarterfinal second leg of the 2023-24 season at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, Japan, on Thursday.

Yokohama, who lost the first leg 0-1 away to Ulsan, scored three goals in the first half to take a commanding lead and advance to the final. Ulsan responded with two goals of their own to tie the score at 3-3 and force overtime. The match was not settled in extra time, but Ulsan won 5-4 in penalty kicks.

The home team, Yokohama, lined up in a 4-3-3 formation. William Pope was in goal, with Ken Matsubara, Takumi Kamijima, Shinnosuke Hatanaka, and Katsuya Nagato in defense. Keigo Sakakibara, Tae-hee Nam, and Asahi Uenaka made up the midfield, while Andersson Lopes, Jan Mateusz, and Elber formed the front three.

Yokohama opened the scoring to break the deadlock. Hwa-geun was the culprit as the Ulsan defense overlapped in the box and delayed handling the ball. Taking advantage of Hwang Seok-ho and Lee Myung-jae’s delay in handling the ball, Uenaka split the goal with a right-footed shot from inside the box. The score was 1-1.

Yokohama’s second goal came shortly afterward. López received a pass from Mateus in the box and struck a hard left-footed shot into the corner of the goal. The score was 2-1 in favor of Yokohama.

Yokohama drove a wedge into the match. In the 29th minute, on a counter-attack, Uenaka took the pressure off with an exquisite turn, drove the ball forward, and then curled a big right-footed shot that rattled the net.

The final score was 3-1. Ulsan pushed forward. In the 34th minute, Lee Dong-kyung’s cross from a corner kick was headed home by Mateusz. The score was 3-2.

Ulsan equalized again from the penalty spot. Bojanic’s pass was caught by Uhm Won-sang. Seeing a defender charging at him, he folded the ball once, and in doing so, the ball touched Kamijima’s arm. The referee immediately awarded a penalty kick and ordered Kamijima to be sent off directly.

Bojanic stepped up to the spot kick, fooling the keeper perfectly before slotting the ball into the bottom right corner. With the score tied at 3-3, Ulsan now had a numerical advantage.

However, Yokohama did not back down. They didn’t drop their defense and actively sought to score. After surviving the extra time, Yokohama defeated Ulsan in the penalty shootout. All players were successful until the last kicker, where Ulsan’s Kim Min-woo missed, while Yokohama’s Eduardo converted. Yokohama has reached the ACL final.

Speaking at the post-match press conference, Kewell said: “We’ve played a lot of games this season and we’re in the Champions League. We played 안전놀이터 excellent football in the first 35 minutes. We created a lot of chances. Ulsan couldn’t create any attacks. But after the sending off, I think the players were confused. It was a difficult 90 minutes, but I’m proud of the way the players held on and got the win tonight.”

“We pressed well in the first leg,” he said of his side’s ability to keep Ulsan at bay with strong pressure throughout the match. In the second, we pressed a little bit more, and I think we did a good job in the first 20 minutes of the game of shutting down Ulsan’s offense. We tried to press Lopes. He’s our first defender. I told them to feel comfortable pressing because we have 10 defenders behind him. I also emphasized to the players that we have to press as a team.”

On how he reached the Champions League final just four months after taking over at Yokohama, he says: “I’m improving as a coach and as a team as I play. I think the whole process of coaching is a learning process. When you arrive at a club, there are certain things that previous managers have done, and I am a new man. One of my coaching philosophies is to give the players trust and let them enjoy themselves in order to unlock the old things that are stuck.”

On the purpose of the defense after Kamijima was sent off, he said, “After he was sent off, we had to quickly adapt to defending with 10 men. We wanted to keep Ulsan on the flanks and prevent them from playing different types of attacks.”

“Before the game, I told the players that it was going to be a tougher game than the ones we’ve played before. “I told them before the game that this game could give us everything or take it away from us,” he said. “I motivated not only the players, but also the medical team and all the coaching staff to push them to the limit.


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