Ventforet, Marinos join Frontale in AFC Champions League last 16

Ventforet, Marinos join Frontale in AFC Champions League last 16

Ventforet Kofu and Yokohama F·Marinos are going to the AFC Champions League knockout stages, joining Kawasaki Frontale as group winners as the trio of J.League clubs wrapped up a terrific group stage in the continental competition.

Ventforet’s path to AFC Champions League group winner is nothing short of stunning. The second division club made a dream run to win the 2022 Emperor’s Cup, knocking off top flight team after top flight team.

That earned them a berth in the top continental competition, where they continued to shock the world with impressive results against A-League Men powerhouse Melbourne City, reigning Thai League champions Buriram United, and Zhejiang FC of China.

Heading into the final day, though, Ventforet’s bid to win the group and advance wouldn’t be easy. They had to go away to Buriram, Thailand’s back-to-back treble winners, and secure a result.

Ventforet were up to the challenge. Motoki Hasegawa curled home the opener and then the ageless wonder Peter Utaka hit for two goals as the 39-year-old gave his team a three-goal lead.

It got tight late as Buriram United scored twice in the second half, but Ventforet did just enough to hold on for the 3-2. That clinched first place in the group for Kofu, who have now won the Emperor’s Cup and advanced to the AFC Champions League knockout stages as a Meiji Yasuda J2 League team.

Marinos are likewise through after needing a win against group leaders Shandong Taishan on the final day. That's exactly what they got thanks to their three Brazilian stars. First, Élber ran onto a gorgeous pass from Yan Matheus, split two defenders and finished to put Marinos in front. Then, J1’s joint Top Scorer Anderson Lopes found the back of the net before Yan Matheus wrapped up the big win with a beautiful chip as the Tricolor cruised to a 3-0 win over the Chinese side.

Marinos’ win put them level on 12 points with Shandong and South Korea’s Incheon United , creating havoc at the top of Group G. Fortunately for Yokohama, they had the tiebreaker on their side and secured first place and an automatic place in the round of 16.

Frontale had far less to play for on the final matchday, having already clinched first place in Group I with 15 points from their first five matches. They sent out a heavily rotated side for their match against Ulsan Hyundai, but Daiya Tono and Tatsuki Seko still managed to find the back of the net to draw the South Korean club, 2-2, and finish the group stage unbeaten.

Unfortunately, Urawa Reds failed to make it a perfect four Japanese clubs in the knockout stages. They fell to Hanoi FC, 2-1, in their final group stage match, ending their chances of repeating as Asian champions.

With the group stage now over, three J.League teams are still alive in their quest to lift Asia’s ultimate prize. They now await the knockout stage draw on December 26 and the next step on their Champions League path.