Opinion

Postecoglou sends a chilling message to Asia - and Sydney

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If there were worries that Yokohama F.Marinos would struggle to replicate their title-winning J.League form of 2019 in the 2020 AFC Champions League, they were dispelled on Wednesday.

Ange Postecoglou’s men sent a message to next week’s opponents Sydney FC and the rest of the continent with a 2-1 win over Jeonbuk Motors.

Don’t be fooled by the narrow margin of victory. Melbourne Victory defeated Chiangrai United by a single goal on the previous day in a performance that could perhaps be described as ‘workmanlike’.

This was anything but.  Few disagreed with the comments from the Aussie coach after the game that his team could have scored five more.

Jeonbuk finished with nine men - the two send-offs were partly the results of an unfamiliar feeling of frustration for Jeonbuk being bested at home - and too many headlines focused on that.

It is hard to remember the Motors, a team that has dominated Korean football for much of the previous decade, being outclassed to such a degree.

It is true that reading too much into the first games can be risky.

Back in 2012, Guangzhou Evergrande made the Champions League in an eagerly-awaited debut. The Southern China Tigers had been spending lots of money and after years of Chinese underachievement, there was a lot of curiosity to see how they would do.

The first fixture was away at Jeonbuk, unluckily defeated finalist of just three months prior.Guangzhou won 5-1.

That was something of a freak result and did not reflect the game with every shot from the Reds, all scored by Brazilians, seeming to go in (Jeonbuk would go to China and win 3-1 later in the group). Guangzhou were immediately crowned as champions but fell at the quarter-final stage.

Yokohama’s 2-1 win was more dominant than that thrashing. In the game eight years ago, Jeonbuk were not outclassed but on Wednesday, that is exactly what happened. 

While it is not exactly an Asian debut for Yokohama, it was only their second appearance in 15 years and it marked an impressive return.

Jeonbuk are a genuine Asian powerhouse. The men in green have won the Champions League twice and failed to grab a third because of a penalty shootout and have won five of the last six K-League titles.

In short, a point at Jeonbuk is a result that any team in Asia would be happy with. A trip to Jeonju World Cup Stadium is perhaps the toughest away day in Asian football.

As soon as the game settled, Yokohama controlled everything.

The Japanese had over two-thirds of the possession at the home of the Korean champions and created far more chances.

Had the likes of Ado Onaiwu and Teruhito Nakagawa --who gave an excellent all-round performance despite failing to get on the scoresheet-- been a little more clinical with the chances that came their way then the scoreline would have been much more convincing.

 

It felt as if Jeonbuk had not done their homework and they struggled to cope with the full-backs who played almost as attacking midfielders at times.

On the left Thailand’s Theerathon Bunmathan and Keita Endo were working well and having plenty of joy and Ken Matsubara got forward well from right-back to join the attack.

Jeonbuk, looking slow and pedestrian, were reduced to long-balls out from the back which just handed possession back to Yokohama and the attacks started again.

The Japanese team were able to switch from right to left and back again, moving the Jeonbuk defence all over the place and finding plenty of holes.

If you can outclass Jeonbuk Motors on home soil, then you can beat any team in Asia and if you can do that, well, you can go all the way.

It is tempting to dismiss the first game as exactly that, after all Yokohama seemed to forget how to defend in last weekend’s Super Cup game with Vissel Kobe, but Ange Postecoglou has sent a message to Asia.

If Yokohama keep playing like this, they will take some stopping. It is Sydney’s turn to try.