Nagoya Grampus’ return to the AFC Champions League went nearly perfectly. Playing in Asia’s top continental club tournament for the first time since 2012, Nagoya won their first five matches to clinch the top spot in Group G before drawing their final match to complete an undefeated group stage.
Nagoya qualified for the competition with their third place finish in last year’s MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE and fortified their squad in the offseason to prepare for a Champions League experience that began behind closed doors in Bangkok, Thailand due to the pandemic.
Nagoya started fast with a 1-0 win over Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta’zim, but it was in their second match that Grampus really made a statement. Facing the K League’s Pohang Steelers, who were expected to challenge for the top spot in Group G, Nagoya played superbly. Yoichiro Kakitani, one of Nagoya’s offseason signings, scored first, then Mateus added a pair of goals in a dominant 3-0 victory for Grampus. A 4-0 victory over Thailand’s Ratchaburi Mitr Phol followed and Grampus had victories over every other team in the group.
Nagoya started the second half of group stage play with another win over the Thai side, this time 3-0. When they met Pohang Steelers again, they got goals from Mateus and Hiroyuki Abe in the first 28 minutes then held on for a 2-1 victory. With the top spot in the group secured, they drew JDT, 1-1.
Nagoya finished the group stage five points clear of second place Pohang Steelers. Now they move onto the Round of 16, where they are scheduled to play another K League team, Daegu FC, in a one-legged tie at home.