Soccer-Kobe into Asian Champions League group phase as Lincoln pounces

By Michael Church

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Vissel Kobe reached the group phase of the Asian Champions League on Tuesday when Brazilian striker Lincoln scored five minutes into extra time to earn the Japanese hosts a dramatic 4-3 playoff win over Melbourne Victory.

Substitute Lincoln pounced on Yuya Osako's ball across the face of goal to take the J-League side into the next round where they will face Hong Kong's Kitchee, Shanghai Port from China and Thai side Chiangrai United in Group J.

Kobe looked to be heading out of the competition when Nick D'Agostino scored his second of the game in the 71st minute.

Andres Iniesta had opened the scoring with six minutes on the clock but D'Agostino bundled the ball over the line at a corner in the 12th minute to restore parity.

The 24-year-old then finished off a rapid-fire break to put Melbourne in front, only for Yuya Osako to score twice in the last 10 minutes to give Kobe the lead again.

Osako volleyed home after Ryuho Kikuchi's headed the ball on in the 80th minute and then steered Hotaru Yamaguchi's cross from the right past Matt Acton in a thrilling seesaw game.

But Melbourne substitute Ben Folami then curled his effort into the top corner after keeper Hiroki Iikura had denied D'Agostino a hat-trick in the final minute to take the game into extra time, where Lincoln killed off Tony Popovic's side.

Twice champions Ulsan Hyundai also advanced, with Hong Myung-bo's side winning 3-0 against Thailand's Port FC.

Goals from Choi Gi-yun, Um Won-sang and Leonardo ensured progress for the former winners, who will now face Japan's Kawasaki Frontale, Guangzhou FC from China and Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta'zim in Group I.

Daegu FC needed penalties to see off Thailand's Buriram United, the South Korean side winning the shootout 3-2 after the game finished in a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes.

Daegu will meet Chinese Super League champions Shandong Taishan, twice winners Urawa Red Diamonds from Japan and Singapore's Lion City Sailors in Group F.

Group games in the eastern half of the competition begin on April 15 and will be played in Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, eight days after those involving teams from the west of the continent kick off in Saudi Arabia.

Matches in each group will be played in centralised biosecure venues as organisers the Asian Football Confederation seek to limit travel due to the ongoing pandemic.

(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Ken Ferris)

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