Iniesta magic sparks Japan’s Vissel Kobe to easy victory
ASIAN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
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