The first leg of the 2023-24 AFC Champions League final will take place on Saturday at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, Japan. We look ahead to the clash with our Yokohama F. Marinos vs Al Ain prediction and preview.

Yokohama F. Marinos vs Al Ain: The Quick Hits

  • Yokohama F. Marinos are predicted to win the first leg of the 2024 AFC Champions League final against Al Ain, with the Opta Supercomputer seeing them win 46.4% of pre-match simulations.
  • Anderson Lopes has been directly involved in six goals in his last seven AFC Champions League matches (5 goals, 1 assist), including four goals in his last five games.
  • Despite reaching the final, Al Ain have faced 30 more shots (174) than they have attempted (144) in the AFC Champions League this season, while opponents have had 78 more touches in the opposition box (281 vs 203).

Match Preview

Forty clubs from around the AFC confederation have been whittled down to the final two – Yokohama F. Marinos vying for their maiden AFC Champions League title, and Al Ain, on a quest to be crowned the champions of Asia for the first time since 2003. The teams will meet first at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama on 11 May before a final showdown two weeks later at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain on 25 May.

Yokohama F. Marinos are one of only two teams (also Kashima Antlers) who have remained in the top division of Japanese Professional Football League (J League) since it started in 1993 with 10 teams. They have won five league titles so far, which is the second most of any team behind only Kashima Antlers (8).

However, their results in past AFC Champions League seasons fell below the level of success they had enjoyed in the domestic league. Yokohama F. Marinos couldn’t go beyond the last 16 stage of the tournament in five attempts before this season, when they finally got past that point to proceed to the final for the first time ever.

Yokohama F. Marinos’ strength throughout the years has been their ability to keep the ball, boasting the highest average possession figure in the AFC Champions League East Division for the last two seasons (66.2% in 2022-23 and 61.2% this season). However, they have had less than 50% possession in each of their last two wins in the tournament, including in a 3-2 win in the second leg of their semi-final against Ulsan Hyundai, when they had just 35.1% of the ball.

Harry Kewell’s side have been the dominant offensive force throughout this season’s AFC Champions League tournament with the highest shots-per-game rate of any team (18.6). They are also the only team among those to reach the knockout stage to have had at least 10 shots at goal in every game this tournament. However, they’ve been wasteful in front of goal, with their shot conversion rate (9.4%) the lowest among the eight teams to make it as far as the quarter-finals.

Marinos’ high press has caused opponents issues in the competition so far this season. Their 10.3 high turnovers per game are the highest among the quarter-finalists, with the team forcing at least 10 high turnovers in each of their last three games up to and including the second leg of semi-finals. No other team has done so more than twice throughout the entire knockout stage.

Yokohama F Marinos Pressing

A key player in this final will be Anderson Lopes, who has scored seven more goals than any other player in the J.League (39) since he joined Yokohama F. Marinos in 2022, and leads the league for shots (204), shots on target (85), and expected goals (38.2) in his 72 appearances in that time.

Anderson Lopes Yokohama

He has brought this form to the 2023-24 AFC Champions League as well. In the Eastern conference, only Shandong Taishan’s Cryzan (8) has scored more goals than the Brazilian forward (6). Furthermore, the 30-year-old has scored at key times.

Four of his six goals have been scored in the knockout stage, and three of them were the opening goal of the game, including a 122nd minute tie-winning penalty in the last 16 versus Bangkok United. Yokohama have won each of the four knockout games he has scored in by a one-goal margin.

Anderson Lopes played as a winger in his younger days but now he is a poacher in the box and the spearhead to Yokohama’s attack. Across the competition this season, 35% of his open-play touches have been made in the central areas inside the opposition box or just outside it. Indeed, only Um Won-Sang (63) has made more touches in the opposition box in 2023-24 AFC Champions League than he has managed (59) in the Eastern conference.

Adept at running at defenders, he’s also made six take-ons in the opposition box which is second only to Shandong Taishan’s Valeri Qazaishvili (7) in the conference this season.

At the onset of this season’s AFC Champions League, optimism wasn’t the prevailing sentiment among Al Ain fans.

Despite the team’s noticeable improvement and clinching of the UAE league title in the 2021-22 season, they had a disappointing campaign the season prior, finishing as runners-up in the league and three cup tournaments (the President’s Cup, the Professional League Cup, and the Super Cup). Moreover, the team missed out on the Asian championship for two consecutive editions in 2021 and 2022 after previously being a regular in the knockout stages.

Al Ain’s defence will be key to their success as they face the possession-hoarding Yokohama F. Marinos. Despite reaching the final, they have faced 30 more shots (174) than they have attempted themselves (144), while opponents (281) have had 78 more touches in the opposition box than Al Ain have managed across their 12 games in the competition this season.

Unlike their opponents from Japan, Al Ain haven’t seen loads of the ball across their AFC CL campaign this season, averaging just 50.0% possession, which is lower than 18 other teams in the competition. Just 39% of their successful passes have come in the attacking half of the pitch, too – only Ahal (37%) have seen a lower proportion in the competition across 2023-24.

Expect to see a lot of the play in this final being dictated by Yokohama F. Marinos in attacking territory, with the Japanese side seeing the highest proportion of passes in the opposition half of any side in the competition this season (65%).

Al Ain Possession AFC Champions League

Soufiane Rahimi has carried the torch for Al Ain as the team have pushed deeper into the knockout stages.

He silenced the voices calling for him to be dropped before the season began and after returning from a goalless draw with Nasaf Qarshi, the Moroccan scored the decisive goal in the second leg (2-1) and netted the winning goal against Al Nassr at home. In Riyadh, he scored two of his team’s three goals, and against Al Hilal in Al Ain, Rahimi scored a memorable first-half hat-trick – the first scored against Al Hilal in AFC Champions League history – ending the Saudi side’s record-breaking 34-game winning run in all competitions.

Rahimi is the top scorer in the knockout stages of the competition this season with his seven goals. Not only this, but he’s been the involved in the team’s open-play attacking sequences more than anyone else and has had the most touches in the penalty area (66).

He’s now just one goal shy of equalling the highest goal tally for an Al Ain player in a single season of the AFC Champions League, a record set by Asamoah Gyan in 2014-15 (12), and one contribution away from matching Gyan’s involvement in 14 goals in the same campaign.

Soufiane Rahimi Al Ain

Recent Form

Yokohama F. Marinos come into this game on the back of a three-game winless run in the J.League (D2 L1) and have won only one of their last six games in all competitions (D3 L2). Their 2024 campaign has been plagued with red cards, seeing eight shown in their last 12 games in all competitions – three to Yokohama and five to their opponents.

Kewell’s men have won each of their last six games as hosts in the AFC Champions League, keeping three clean sheets, so will be confident of a positive start to the two-legged final. They’ve had mixed fortunes on the road, winning only one of their last four away games in the competition (D1 L2), so will be keen to start the final on the right foot on 11 May.

After an ideal start with victories in the first four group stage matches, the unexpected decision from Al Ain to part ways with coach Alfred Schreuder once again left the club in a tumultuous position. The appointment of Hernán Crespo reminded the supporters of the previous tournament’s farewell, where Crespo’s Al Duhail suffered a record defeat against Al Hilal in the semi-finals (0-7).

However, the appointment of former Argentinian international striker Crespo quickly regained the trust of the team, especially in the knockout stages. It’s no small feat to face the star-studded Saudi football giants, Al Hilal and Al Nassr, and secure a win in the first leg and score in the return leg.

Al Ain 4-2 Al Hilal

Al Ain became only the second team in the history of the AFC Champions League to defeat both Al Hilal and Al Nassr in the same edition, after Al Sadd achieved this in 2019. Al Sadd beat Al Nassr in the quarter-finals and Al Hilal in the semi-finals but did not advance to the final of the tournament that year.

Opta Power Rankings

The Opta Power Rankings are a global team ranking system that assigns an ability score to over 13,000 domestic football teams on a scale between zero and 100, where zero is the worst-ranked team in the world and 100 is the best team in the world.

Ahead of kick-off on Saturday, here is the Opta Power Ranking for both sides.

Yokohama F. Marinos vs Al Ain Prediction

Yokohama F. Marinos are predicted to win the first leg of the 2024 AFC Champions League final against Al Ain, with the Opta Supercomputer seeing them win 46.4% of 10,000 pre-match simulations.

The two sides played out a draw in 25.1% of sims, while Al Ain grabbed an away win to take back to the UAE in 28.5% of matches played out by the supercomputer before kick-off this weekend in Japan.

Yokohama vs Al Ain Prediction

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