After defeating the Australian champions, Tokyo will need just one point from their upcoming away match at Ulsan Hyundai to play next month's single-elimination contest at homeA smiling Ranko Popovic praised his FC Tokyo side following their 4-2 victory over recently-crowned A-League champions Brisbane Roar on Wednesday night in the Asian Champions League (ACL) at a rain-swept Tokyo National Stadium.
Tokyo became the first Japanese team of this year's ACL to guarantee advancement to the knockout stage after first-half goals by Hideto Takahashi and Kenta Mukuhara as well as a double by Kazuma Watanabe, with strikes either side of half-time.
"It was a great match for both teams," Popovic told reporters after the match. "The fans came out to see us in this dreadful weather and I think we repaid them with the right result and a good performance."
The capital city club's first-year manager was eager to respond to earlier comments by Roar manager Rado Vidosic, who said that he wished for his team to adopt the hosts' systematic attacking style.
"I'm very thankful to hear those words from [Vidosic]," Popovic exclaimed. "Brisbane play overwhelmingly strong football and it's no exaggeration to call them the Barcelona of Australia.
"For a manager like him to present Tokyo as an example of Japanese football is a huge recognition of our efforts. We have played attacking soccer and reached the last 16 and I think we have given a good account of ourselves as Japanese representatives in Asia."
The victory comes as Tokyo struggle in the J-League with a three-game losing streak, having scored just one goal and fallen from third to ninth place in that span.
"In football things don't always go the way you want them to," Popovic said in alluding to his recent results, "But the important thing is that you keep believing in yourself. In today's game we showed that belief."
The 44-year-old, who last season led Machida Zelvia to promotion to the J-League's second division, was quick to stifle comparisons between his current club and last year's Cerezo Osaka, who advanced to the ACL quarter-finals while finishing 12th in the J-League.
"What do you see if you look at the records of other teams who compete in [both competitions]?" Popovic asked. "In most cases players and managers have been together for a long time.
"What everyone needs to remember is that this is a team that just earned promotion from the second division, and we can't change everything overnight. But my responsibility is to help the team mature as quickly as possible, and get results by playing good football."