Harry Kewell
Harry Kewell had a nerve-wracking night before making history with his Yokohama F.Marinos team. Image by AP PHOTO
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Harry Kewell on brink of ‘something special’ as coach

Ian Chadband April 25, 2024

Harry Kewell had asked his Yokohama F.Marinos players to summon up the spirit that once enabled him to become a European Champions League winner as a player.

And how they then delivered for their Australian boss to now give him the chance of unprecedented glory as a champion coach in Asia.

“We’ve given ourselves a wonderful opportunity to do something special for this club,” boomed Kewell on Wednesday night in Yokohama, after the Japanese giants, reduced to 10 men and hanging on, somehow eked out a penalty shoot-out win against Ulsan to reach the Asian Champions League final.

Jubilant Marinos
 Yokohama F. Marinos players were jubilant after reaching the Champions League final. Image by AP PHOTO 

It’s a wonderful opportunity, too, for Kewell, at the age of 45 and after an underwhelming start to his managerial career in England’s lower leagues, to prove that he could still be just as adept a coach as he was a gifted player back in his Leeds, Liverpool and Socceroos heyday.

On the eve of their semi-final, second-leg match against the South Korean side, having to battle back from a 1-0 deficit, Kewell had asked for Yokohama to take a leaf out of the book of his Liverpool team that came, famously, from 3-0 down to AC Milan to win the Champions League final in Istanbul on penalties.

Kewell could only play a bit part that night after he got injured but now he’s got the chance to play the starring role in the Asian version against UAE side Al-Ain, who, ironically, are managed by Argentine Hernan Crespo, who was striking for Milan on that famous night in 2005.

Yokohama’s victory on Wednesday was carved out amid real adversity as they were reduced unluckily to 10 men five minutes before halftime when sliding defender Takumi Kamijima was sent off for handball, leading to an Ulsan penalty which made it 2-3 and levelled up the aggregate score.

From then on, Yokohama were constantly on the backfoot for nearly the next hour-and-a-half with Ulsan hitting the woodwork, having a goal disallowed by VAR and another for offside as they survived through extra-time to take the match into penalties.

Then their Japanese goalie William Popp capped a magnificent backs-to-the-wall effort by making the crucial save from Brazilian Eduardo that enabled them to win the shootout 5-4.

Harry Kewell
 Kewell, who won the European Champions League as a Liverpool player, can now win as a coach in Asia. Image by AP PHOTO 

It meant Kewell had achieved what his Australian predecessors Ange Postecoglou and Kevin Muscat had not been able to pull off, having never won a knock-out match with Yokohama.

Indeed, Kewell can become the first manager to lead the Japanese giants to the promised land of a Champions League triumph, with the extra lucrative reward being a place in the next, expanded FIFA World Club Championship.

“From the moment I’ve come here everyone’s really worked hard to achieve something special,” he said post-match.

“I think it showed them tonight, they believe now they can handle any kind of pressure.”

When he arrived in the New Year after his last spell in Britain as an assistant to Postecoglou at Celtic, Kewell said: “I’m looking forward to continuing the work that Marinos have put in over the last five, six years and kind of bring in my own gold dust on top of it.”

Consider the first bit of gold dust well and truly sprinkled…