Analysis: Iniesta masterclass stuns starstruck JDT
Kobe: Barcelona and Spain legend Andres Iniesta showed the passing of time has done nothing to dull his ability as he shone on his and club Vissel Kobe's AFC Champions League debut in a 5-1 defeat of Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim.
For 16 years, Iniesta shone in Europe and on Wednesday Asian fans got a chance to view the now 35-year-old Spanish maestro perform on the their own Continental stage.
And the man from Fuentealbilla did not disappoint.
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It took Iniesta just 12 minutes to make his presence known to the AFC Champions League fans, with a sumptuous pass from his own half that perfectly picked out Keijiro Ogawa running through on goal to open the scoring for Vissel.
And that was to set the tone for the rest of the tie, with Iniesta dictating play from all around the field for the hosts.
The Spaniard ended proceedings with a 91.5% passing accuracy, six chances created for his side and two assists thanks to another fine pass for Ogawa's third of the game with 18 minutes remaining.
Johor coach Luciano Figueroa admitted that his players had been "starstruck" by the former Barcelona midfielder. "They were not coming in like usual and they were looking at him more, and that ball watching punished us," he admitted ruefully.
Ogawa's night to remember
While Iniesta was putting on a passing clinic, there still needed to be a finisher on the end and Keijiro Ogawa was that man for Vissel.
Although it might have come as a surprise to regular watchers of the side. The 27-year-old has had a far from a prolific career, bar a fruitful 2013 season, and his hat-trick on Wednesday already sees him nearing his entire return for the 2019 season.
While Ogawa spent most of the match on the right flank, he showed a knack for knowing when to make his runs and popping up in the right place at the right time. Of his four shots, one was off target and the rest resulted in goals; two with his left foot and one headed home from close range.
The first was particularly memorable as he anticipated Iniesta's pass, split the two Johor centre-backs, and lifted the ball first-time across the opposing goalkeeper. He then punished slack defending twice in the second half to complete a Continental debut that will live long in his memory.
Safawi flickers on tough night for JDT
Last year, JDT's star Safawi Rasid carved his name into the AFC Champions League with a stunning strike away at Shandong Luneng, a goal that was voted the second best of the competition.
Although memorable, it was his only return of the 2019 campaign, a tally he had already matched inside the half hour in Kobe after coolly dispatching a penalty following Thomas Vermaelen's handball. That moment of joy for Johor was snuffed out within a minute however, when Kyogo Furuhashi replied in style.
With all eyes on Iniesta, Safawi's own contribution was largely muted by comparison but he did remain JDT's best outlet. His three created chances is more than the rest of his teammates put together, while of the visitors' three shots on target, two came from the boot of Safawi.
While it would have been a chastening night of football, if the 22-year-old can learn from the clinic on show from Iniesta it can only be to the benefit of JDT and Malaysian football as a whole.
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