SAITAMA – It took Vissel Kobe 25 seasons to win their first trophy.
The second one took just 90 minutes — and a penalty shootout that will, for better or for worse, go down in Saitama Stadium history.
After a 3-3 draw against Yokohama F. Marinos in Saturday’s Fuji Xerox Super Cup, Kobe triumphed 3-2 in penalty kicks, but only after an astounding nine straight players missed from the spot following two sets of successful conversions.
“It was a good commercial for Japanese soccer. I hope the fans enjoyed it,” Vissel manager Thorsten Fink said. “I’ve never seen a penalty shootout like that.”
The German coach was more correct than he realized — in addition to the crowd of 51,397 in Saitama, the match was streamed to international viewers on Facebook and YouTube for the first time.
Boy did they get a treat.
Hotaru Yamaguchi’s decider — the 14th penalty attempt of the shootout — capped off a wild day of goals on both ends of the pitch, many of which came from the sort of suspect defending that comes from teams finding their groove after the winter break.
“I guess it’s a bit of a preseason game. We didn’t play well in the first half,” said Marinos manager Ange Postecoglou. “In the second half we played better and created enough opportunities to win the game. It’s indicative of where we are at the moment, we’re still a bit rusty.”
Vissel Kobe’s squad featured Andres Iniesta — making his first Saitama Stadium appearance after missing two away games against the Urawa Reds — and newcomer Douglas, who scored 14 goals last season for Shimizu S-Pulse and opened his Vissel account in the 27th minute on an assist from the former Barcelona legend.
Striker Ado Onaiwu, who arrived at Yokohama from Oita Trinita this offseason, didn’t have nearly as productive a game and was replaced at the half.
“They might be nervous, but we weren’t hitting up passes, we weren’t confident in our movements,” Postecoglou said “I guess the disappointing thing is that in the second half we played well, we played our football.”
Marcos Junior scored the 1-1 equalizer for Marinos on a play that came with some controversy, heading into an empty net as Hiroki Iikura — himself a former Marinos man — was down on the pitch following a collision.
The 1-1 score didn’t last for long. A poorly considered back pass by Marinos defender Thiago Martins was intercepted by Kyogo Furuhashi, who punished Park for his positioning at the edge of the penalty area with a low shot that traveled faster than the Korean goalkeeper could return to his line.
“They’re human beings, they’re going to make mistakes,” said Postecoglou. “I’ve never worried my whole career about individual mistakes. I thought today’s mistakes were more through nervousness than technical or tactical miscues.”
End-to-end play continued in the second half, and despite even more questionable defending Marinos leveled again on a beautiful loop by Takahiro Ogihara nine minutes into the stanza.
Next it was Vissel midfielder Yamaguchi’s turn to appear on the scoreboard after the former Japan international pounced on a rebound from Iniesta’s 69th-minute attempt.
That 3-2 lead lasted until the 73th minute. Last year’s J. League MVP Teruhito Nakagawa crossed to Keita Endo, who dished the ball to Erik for a quick finish in front of the goal.
After 20 tense minutes that failed to produce a game winner, both teams huddled up, oblivious as to what was about to occur.
Thiago Martins, Iniesta, Takahiro Ogihara and Junya Tanaka all converted their penalties true to make it 2-2.
Then came an improbable string of saves — by Vissel goalkeeper Iikura and Marinos counterpart Park Il-gyu — and misses, including several balls that struck either the posts or the crossbar.
Among the nine players to come up empty was Thomas Vermaelen, the Belgium international who signed with Kobe last summer.
But Yamaguchi gave the portside club its second title in six weeks, following its Emperor’s Cup win over the Kashima Antlers on Jan. 1.
“It’s great to win a title, and if you look at the match both teams fought hard,” Fink said. “We showed that we were focused on winning the title and I’m happy about that.”