Redemption still beckons for Vissel Kobe.
In what has been a woeful campaign on the domestic front as they dally dangerously with relegation from the J1 League, Vissel remain on course to become champions of Asia as they marched on into the 2022-23 AFC Champions League quarterfinals.
Has it been mentioned that talismanic playmaker Andres Iniesta was not even required to come off the bench?
From the opening whistle, the Vissel players ran like men possessed, aware that elimination from the ACL would essentially mean a failure of a season, even if they stay up in the J1 League or go on to win the Emperor's Cup -- in which they are currently through to the quarterfinals.
Following a quick exchange of goals from Iino and Marinos' Takuma Nishimura starting in the 7th minute, Vissel would reclaim the lead through a Daiju Sasaki penalty a minute after the half-hour mark before Yutaro Oda added a third with an emphatic finish in the 80th minute.
A late Anderson Lopes strike pulled one back for Marinos and set up a nervy finish that Vissel were ultimately able to negotiate their way through for the victory, which actually was far more dominant -- based on the balance of play -- than the final score suggested.
With the ACL East Zone quarterfinals and semifinals to be completed by next Thursday, it is easy to see why Vissel could easily be the team celebrating progress to next February's final.
Even without having to call upon Iniesta, they displayed tremendous experience and an ability to control the game through the likes of Osako, Sakai and Leo Osaki, who had the thankless task of breaking down Marinos' attacks in the middle of the park and did so clinically with some expert fouls -- even though he had been on a yellow card from as early as the 7th minute.
Although he is prone to the odd gaffe, Daiya Maekawa was outstanding in goal on Thursday as he produced a series of stunning saves to keep Marinos at bay.
The tireless Iino had a career breakout game down the right and he, along with the likes of Sasaki and Koya Yuruki, provided the youthful endeavour to perfectly blend with the team's more seasoned campaigners.
Throw in Iniesta and recent signing Stefan Mugosa, who also was not required against Marinos but who arrived in Kobe after scoring 14 goals in half a season for high-flying Incheon United in South Korea's K League 1, and there is a plethora of talent capable of going all the way.
It is this same abundance of quality that makes it so puzzling -- and frustrating for Vissel fans -- as to why their domestic displays have been so disappointing.
There is little they can do to rectify that now, although avoiding relegation is a must.
But salvation is very much still on the cards in the form of Vissel's quest to win a maiden ACL crown this season.