Ange Postecoglou believes his Yokohama F. Marinos team will be up for the challenge when they make their AFC Champions League return on Wednesday against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
One of only two clubs to have played in every season of the J1 League since its inception in 1992, Marinos ended a 15-year wait to be crowned champions last year as they beat FC Tokyo 3-0 on the final day of the campaign to pip their opponents to the title.
The secondary prize that came with winning the league was an automatic berth in the group stage of AFC Champions League 2020, which has not been as long a wait for them given their last appearance came in 2014.
Marinos warmed up for Wednesday’s Group H visit to Jeonju World Cup Stadium last Saturday by doing battle with Vissel Kobe for the Japanese Super Cup, which they lost 3-2 on penalties in an amazing shootout that saw nine consecutive attempts failing to be converted following a thrilling 3-3 draw.
Despite their status as ever-presents in the top flight of Japanese football, Marinos have not exactly enjoyed much success on the continental front and have failed to qualify out of the group stage in three previous appearances, but Postecoglou will not allow that to weigh on his players’ minds.
“It’s a different game, a different proposition, a different opponent and a different country,” said the Australia, according to the Asian Football Confederation’s official website.
View this post on Instagram
“We haven’t been in the AFC Champions League as a club for a long time so it’s going to be a good challenge for us.
“We always stick to our principles and don’t worry about the end result.”
There was certainly plenty that would have given Postecoglou cause for concern at the weekend as an insipid first-half display saw his charges trail Vissel 2-1 at the break, although they did fight back well to get back into the contest.
Still, he was more interested in looking at the positives with Marinos riding themselves of some early-season rust ahead of a more-crucial tie against Jeonbuk.
“The definition of getting rid of rust is to lubricate it and get it out of your system, and maybe we did that,” Postecoglou explained.
“I just think we started the game [against Vissel] thinking about victory rather than playing our football.
🎂 Happy Birthday Theerathon Bunmathan 🎂
🤔 Who is the best free-kick taker in Asia? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/xLDDQRKWCS
— #ACL2020 (@TheAFCCL) February 6, 2020
“Our second half showed that we’re ready to play and we’re in good physical condition and we’re ready to play our football.
“Without jumping into the players heads – because we can’t – whether it’s rustiness, nerves or whatever it was, it wasn’t conducive to playing out football. To play our football is to be brave and not worry about mistakes and it seemed like we were.
“Maybe it’s rustiness, maybe it’s nerves, but hopefully that [first] 45 minutes has got that out of our system and our second 45 minutes was excellent.”
Apart from Jeonbuk, Marinos will also be vying with Sydney FC and Shanghai SIPG for a top-two finish in Group H and a place in the knockout round.