SOCCER/ Yokohama’s Kewell and Al

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SOCCER/ Yokohama’s Kewell and Al-Ain’s Crespo meet again for a continental title. This time it’s in

SOCCER/ Yokohama’s Kewell and Al-Ain’s Crespo meet again for a continental title. This time it’s in Asia


May 10, 2024 at 13:22 JST

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Photo/IllutrationYokohama F. Marinos' head coach Harry Kewell gestures during the first leg of the AFC Champions League semifinal soccer match between Ulsan Hyundai and Yokohama F. Marinos at the Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, South Korea, on April 17. (AP Photo)

Harry Kewell and Hernan Crespo will shake hands as head coaches with the Asian title on the line on Saturday, almost two decades after facing each other when Liverpool met AC Milan in the famous 2005 UEFA Champions League final.

Kewell is now in charge of Yokohama F.Marinos, the Japanese club hosting Al-Ain of the United Arab Emirates on Saturday in the first leg of the Asian Champions League final series.

He was the victor in ‘05 when Liverpool recovered from a 3-0 deficit to triumph in a penalty shootout. Crespo scored two goals for Milan in Istanbul that day but ended as a losing finalist. He’s hoping to lift the Asian trophy at Al-Ain after the second leg on May 25.

Unlike Al-Ain, continental title winner in 2003 and finalist in ‘05 and ‘16, Yokohama has never before reached this stage of the continental club championship.

Kewell has led the five-time J.League winner through the knockout stages, including a comeback victory over Ulsan HD of South Korea in the semifinals.

After a 1-0 first leg loss in the semifinals, the 45-year-old Kewell — the third successive Australian to take charge of Yokohama following Ange Postecoglou and Kevin Muscat — invoked the spirit of Liverpool’s historic comeback 19 years ago.

“I was part of a special team that night that was able to come back from a scenario where a lot of people thought it was dead and buried,” Kewell said. “It just goes to show that a game is never finished, especially when you’ve got a hunger and a desire in a team.

“And I see that hunger and desire in this team to go out there and do something magical.”

Kewell’s coaching career is yet to reach the heights of his time as a player who starred for Leeds United and Liverpool in the English Premier League and represented Australia at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. A stint with Crawley Town in England’s fourth division in 2017 was the first of his three short-term jobs head coaching before he arrived at Barnet, where he was fired after just seven games in 2021.

Invited by Postecoglou to join the coaching staff at Scottish giant Celtic in 2022, Kewell worked as an assistant there until he took over at Yokohama last December.

Victory in Asia could send the Sydney-born coach back into Europe.

Crespo, who won league titles in England and Italy as a player with Chelsea and Inter Milan, has already had success as a coach .

After winning trophies in South America, he led Al-Duhail to the 2023 Qatar league title. The season was blighted by a heavy 7-0 loss to Al-Hilal in the semifinals of last season’s Asian Champions League.

With Al-Ain, the 48-year-old Crespo got the better of the Saudi club at the same stage last month, winning 5-4 on aggregate in the semifinals.

Al-Ain went into that semifinal series on the back of a victory over another Saudi club — Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr.

“We talk so much about the two teams we eliminated because we were underdogs in the quarterfinals and semifinals, and we went through,” Crespo said. “We always need to say thank you to the players, congratulations to the players. They believe, they work hard, they fight, and they deserve to go through … I’m very happy to be part of it.”                                                                       


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