Ini­esta magic sparks Ja­pan’s Vis­sel Kobe to easy vic­tory

Muscat Daily - - SPORTS -


Kobe, Ja­pan - Barcelona leg­end An­dres Ini­esta pro­duced a mag­i­cal dis­play on his Asian Cham­pi­ons League (ACL) de­but Wed­nes­day to in­spire Ja­pan's Vis­sel Kobe to a 5-1 thrash­ing of Malaysia's Jo­hor Darul Ta'zim in their Group G opener.

The 35 year old, who won four Euro­pean Cups in a glit­ter­ing ca­reer with the Span­ish gi­ants, set up the home side's open­ing goal af­ter 13 min­utes, thread­ing a de­fence-split­ting pass for hat-trick hero Kei­jiro Ogawa to lob over goal­keeper Farizal Mar­lias.

A hand­ball by Ini­esta's for­mer Barca team­mate Thomas Ver­mae­len al­lowed the vis­i­tors to equalise from the spot through Safawi Rasid on 27 min­utes.

But par­ity van­ished less than 60 sec­onds later when Kyogo Fu­ruhashi slammed in a shot from the edge of the box to re­store Kobe's ad­van­tage.

World Cup win­ner Ini­esta, who joined the J-League club on a mon­ster, three-year deal al­most two years ago, played a key part in Kobe's third goal 13 min­utes into the sec­ond half.

The lit­tle sor­cerer con­jured a filthy no-look pass for Go­toku Sakai, who teed up Ogawa for the bleach-blond striker's sec­ond of the night, be­fore Dou­glas added a bril­liant solo goal seven min­utes later.

As the flood­gates threat­ened to open, Ini­esta dinked an inch-per­fect cross onto the head of Ogawa to com­plete his hat-trick af­ter 72 min­utes. He was sub­sti­tuted to a stand­ing ova­tion two min­utes from time, turn­ing to bow to the pitch as is the Ja­panese cus­tom, be­fore tak­ing his place on the bench.

Ini­esta, who cap­tured 32 ma­jor trophies with Barcelona, is chas­ing a third ti­tle with Kobe af­ter help­ing them to their maiden Em­peror's Cup tri­umph in Jan­uary and a first Ja­panese Su­per Cup last week­end.

Else­where, in Group H, Ange Postecoglo­u's Yoko­hama F Mari­nos won 2-1 in an en­ter­tain­ing clash with Jeon­buk Hyundai Mo­tors, who fin­ished with nine men.

Only two games were played on Tues­day as ties in­volv­ing Chi­nese teams - Guangzhou Ever­grande in Group G, and Shang­hai SIPG in Group H - have been post­poned un­til April over the deadly coro­n­avirus.

Mandzu­kic strikes on Al Duhail de­but

For­mer Croa­tia for­ward Mario

Mandzu­kic struck ACL de­but as Qatar gi­ants Al Duhail beat Iran's Perse­po­lis 2-0 in their open­ing Group C match on Tues­day.

Ex-Bay­ern Mu­nich, Atletico Madrid and Ju­ven­tus at­tacker Mandzu­kic, who was part of the Croa­tia side who fin­ished run­ners-up at the 2018 World Cup, headed in a fifth-minute cross from Al­moez Ali to give the hosts the lead in Doha.

Mandzu­kic got plenty of help from the Perse­po­lis de­fend­ers though, as they were busy protest­ing an al­leged foul even as Ali chipped the ball from just out­side the penalty area. The home side con­sol­i­dated the lead in the 13th minute through Brazil­ian Ed­mil­son who scored with a low shot.

In Group D, Qatar's Al Sadd and Saudi Ara­bia's Al Nassr fig­ured in an en­ter­tain­ing 2-2 draw at the Prince Faisal bin Fa­had Sta­dium in Riyadh.

Al Sepa­han routs UAE’s Al Ain

Ear­lier, in an­other Group D match, Iran's Sepa­han thrashed UAE's Al Ain 4-0 with three of the goals com­ing in the sec­ond half. A 38th-minute header from Mo­hamed Mo­hebbi off Saeid Aghaei's cross put Sepa­han ahead be­fore strikes from Brazil­ian Kiros, Souroush Rafiei and Mo­hamed Tayebi com­pleted the rout.

There was fur­ther dis­ap­point­ment for a UAE side when Shar­jah FC suf­fered a 1-0 home de­feat against Saudi Ara­bia's Al Taa­woun in Group C.

In the East sec­tion an Ola Toivo­nen penalty en­sured Mel­bourne Vic­tory kicked off their cam­paign with a 1-0 over ten-man Chi­an­grai United from Thai­land.

An­dres Ini­esta of Vis­sel Kobe cel­e­brates af­ter the win on Wed­nes­day

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