They do not call him The Illusionist for nothing. Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) were left chasing shadows and ghosts as they were truly undone by a magical performance from Andres Iniesta as Vissel Kobe notched up a convincing 5-1 win in their opening Group G AFC Champions League match.
The former Spanish maestro and World Cup winner was in his element, setting up two of the goals and orchestrating most of the team’s attacking movements in the match at the Neuvir Stadium in Kobe.
Even at 35, Iniesta showed that he has not lost his touch and ability with the ball as JDT had no answer for the Barcelona legend’s supremacy although he did not get in on the scoring act.
That was left to 27-year-old Keijiro Ogawa, who scored a hattrick in the 12th minute, 57th and 72nd.
In chilly conditions, Vissel took the lead when Iniesta’s brilliant long pass from 40m found Ogawa, whose deft flick beat JDT goalkeeper Farizal Marlias in the 12th minute.
The Southern Tigers managed an equaliser in the 25th minute when winger Safawi Rasid thumped his penalty past Vissel’s shot-stopper Hiroki Iikura after Diogo Santo’s pass was handled by Thomas Vermaelen, who has featured for top clubs like Arsenal, Barcelona and AS Roma in Europe.
After the second goal in the 27th minute, it was all Vissel Kobe.
The Japanese side got their second when Kyogo Furuhashi received a brilliant pass from Ogawa, and thumped his shot past a hapless Farizal.
Twelve minutes into the second half, they got their third thanks to a brilliant play between Iniesta and former Hamburg SV leftback Gotoku Sakai, with the latter’s pass being finished off by Ogawa.
A crestfallen JDT looked devoid of ideas, and fell further behind when Vissel’s new signing Douglas capitalised on a defensive mistake by Aidil Zafuan Abdul Razak in the 64th minute to make it 4-1.
The final punch came from the ever-brilliant Iniesta, whose dinked cross beat Mauricio Santos and Farizal Marlias, and fell to Ogawa, who scored his first hattrick for the club.
In the 86th minute, Iniesta was brought off for Ryo Hatsuse, and the Spaniard deservedly received a standing ovation from the Vissel fans.
While Vissel have started imperiously on their debut Champions League, JDT coach Benjamin Mora will have lots of soul-searching to do.