How Yokohama F·Marinos made it to the AFC Champions League final

How Yokohama F·Marinos made it to the AFC Champions League final

Yokohama F·Marinos are one step away from being the kings of Asia and bringing a second straight AFC Champions League crown to Japan, after Urawa Reds conquered the continent a year ago.

How did the Tricolor make it to the ultimate round of Asia’s ultimate club competition?

F·Marinos earned their way into the 2023-24 tournament by winning the 2022 Meiji Yasuda J1 League, sending them straight into the group stage.

That began with a home loss to South Korea’s Incheon United, which put Yokohama on the back foot, but they turned things around with a win over China’s Shandong Taishan before toppling Philippines' Kaya FC Iloilo twice in a row.

A second loss to Incheon United put Marinos in real trouble heading into the final day of the group stage, but they smashed Shandong, 3-0, to move onto 12 points in Group G play. That left them tied with both Incheon and Shandong, but the Tricolor held the tiebreaker advantage and won the group thanks to head-to-head goal difference.

The knockout stage would start with more drama against Bangkok United in the round of 16. A 2-2 draw in Thailand sent the teams back to Yokohama honors even and it took the Tricolor until stoppage time of extra time before Anderson Lopes finally delivered the winner.

The Brazilian was the star of the quarter-finals too, scoring twice more as the Tricolor beat Group G foe Shandong Taishan twice more for a 3-1 aggregate victory.

Marinos had never made the quarter-finals of the Champions League before and now they were into the semi-finals, where they would face one of the continent’s best clubs in Ulsan Hyundai.

The two-time Asian champions and reigning K League winners beat Marinos in the first leg, 1-0, putting massive pressure on the Tricolor heading back to Yokohama. There, Asahi Uenaka was the star man with two early goals before Anderson Lopes added another.

Up 3-1 on aggregate, the Tricolor looked well on their way to the final, but there were even more twists and turns awaiting them along their ACL road. Yokohama got a red card and conceded twice to send the match to extra-time and then penalty kicks.

Ultimately, F·Marinos nailed all five penalties, while Ulsan missed one of theirs, to book Yokohama's place in the final.

Manager Harry Kewell's men have been through it all, from the pressure of needing a win on the last day of the group stage, to extra time in the round of 16, to 10 men and penalty kicks in the semi-finals.

Now, just one final chapter awaits them on this incredible quest for a first-ever AFC Champions League title.