Second-half tallies from Yoshinori Muto and Andrés Iniesta powered Vissel Kobe to a crucial 2-2 draw with Nagoya Grampus after trailing by a pair of goals at halftime.
Nagoya were the better team from the start in this rumble for continental qualification and it took them just six minutes to score. A spectacular pass from Gabriel Xavier sent Yuki Soma streaking down the left, where he crossed for Naoki Maeda to tap in for a gorgeous team goal.
Before the match was even 15 minutes old, Nagoya had doubled their lead through Jakub Świerczok. The terrific striker continued his blinding run of form, bewildering two defenders before firing a shot from 20 yards that nestled into the bottom corner of the goal.
Two goals down and on the road against a high flying Nagoya team, Vissel had their backs against the wall, but Atsuhiro Miura’s men did not fold. They slowly found their way into the match, forcing some saves from Mitchell Langerak, and by the second half they were firmly on the front foot.
In the 59th minute, Vissel finally turned their chances into a goal as Muto pounced on a ball at the back post and poked it home. It was wholly deserved for the Ushi, who were playing excellently, but they still needed another to get even with Nagoya.
Iniesta and Muto nearly brought Vissel level with the former hitting a gorgeous cross that Muto put a good header on, but Langerak made an outstanding save to push it onto the bar and away. The duo would not be denied, though.
With the match winding down, Muto brought a ball down by the edge of the box and tried to work past Yutaka Yoshida. A good turn looked to have him moving towards goal and Yoshida, desperate to keep Muto away, went in on a rash tackle. After consulting VAR, the referee deemed it to be a penalty, which Iniesta blasted into the top corner to complete the comeback.
The 2-2 draw keeps Vissel three points clear of Nagoya with five matches left to play in a tense battle for AFC Champions League qualification. Vissel also hold a six-goal advantage in goal difference, setting them up well for the run-in.
There’s still plenty left to play for and Nagoya will certainly put pressure on Vissel as the season winds down, but the Ushi will be protecting their position with a three-point cushion thanks to Iniesta and Muto.