Iniesta and Vissel clinch third, claim AFC Champions League berth

Iniesta and Vissel clinch third, claim AFC Champions League berth

Vissel Kobe’s best-ever season will see them finish third place in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE and play in next season’s AFC Champions League.

With a Nagoya Grampus loss at Cerezo Osaka, the Ushi clinched third place on Saturday despite losing to Yokohama F·Marinos, 2-0. Before this season, Vissel had never finished higher than seventh place, which they did in 2016. A year ago, they were all the way down in 14th, but this season has been a dream at Noevir Stadium Kobe.

Kyogo Furuhashi carried the Ushi in the first half of the season, scoring 15 goals to lead the league at the time, but Furuhashi was sold to Scottish club Celtic F.C. in the summer. Losing such a terrific player would have crippled many teams, but not Vissel.

They signed Yoshinori Muto, who helped fill the hole Furuhashi left up top, got fabulous play from a newly-healthy Andrés Iniesta in midfield and Hiroki Iikura stepped in at goalkeeper to help solidify the defense. They became a complete team, and a very dangerous one at that, who held off a slew of very good challengers to keep third place and a best-ever club finish.

With third place comes a spot in next season’s AFC Champions League. Vissel have played in the continental championship once before, competing last season after winning the Emperor’s Cup in 2019, but this is the first time they have qualified through a full-season league finish.

Now they can set their sights on 2022, when they will hope to continue their tremendous momentum and finish among the top two while also showing off their quality for all of Asia.