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Vissel realistic about 'unknown' campaign, says Vermaelen

Saitama: Thomas Vermaelen has insisted Vissel Kobe will kick off their first-ever AFC Champions League campaign on Wednesday with no expectations on how far they can advance despite the club’s status as one of the biggest spending teams in Japanese football.

Kobe face Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta’zim at Kobe Wing Stadium in the club’s first-ever appearance in the competition after Vissel won the Emperor’s Cup last year to qualify for the continental championship.

With former Barcelona stars such as Vermaelen and Andres Iniesta among their expensively assembled ranks, expectations on Kobe to make a significant impact on the tournament are high.

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The ex-Arsenal defender, however, stressed Vissel are not setting their sights on lifting the trophy at the end of November.

“We’re not looking at a certain target, like we have to win it or anything,” Vermaelen said after Vissel defeated Yokohama F Marinos in the Japan Super Cup on Saturday. “We have to take it game-by-game and see where we can get."

“Also we’re struggling a bit with the foreign players because we can only put three out and we have five, so that’s a bit of a disappointment. So it’s not always our strongest team that we can put out. But we will see.

“We won the Emperor’s Cup last year and we’ve won the Super Cup so we have to be confident. If we can beat the champions of Japan then you can be confident going into the AFC Champions League as well.”

Vissel, who have also been drawn to face Guangzhou Evergrande and Suwon Samsung Bluewings in Group G, will host a JDT side that made a significant mark on the competition last year.

The Johor-based side defeated 2018 winners Kashima Antlers in the group phase before narrowly missing out on a place in the knockout rounds and Vermaelan acknowledges he and his teammates cannot be complacent against the six-time Malaysian champions.

“Personally these teams are a bit unknown for us and we need to analyse them over the next couple of days,” said the Belgian defender. “It’s new for me as well, the AFC Champions League, I don’t know how it will be so I’ll experience that on Wednesday.

“If you come from Europe all the teams there you basically know them because you see them day in, day out on TV. But for us, and for me as an European, we can’t see all these other teams in Asia. It can be tricky too because if you don’t really know what to expect. It can be really tricky.”

Photo: Vissel Kobe

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