Harry Kewell slams referee after Yokohama F. Marinos' AFC Champions League final loss

Yokohama F. Marinos coach Harry Kewell gave a scathing assessment of the refereeing display in his team's 5-1 loss to Al Ain in the second leg of the 2023-24 AFC Champions League final on Saturday. GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images

Yokohama F. Marinos coach Harry Kewell launched a scathing attack on referee Ilgiz Tantashev after his side were crushed 5-1 by Al Ain in the second leg of the AFC Champions League final on Saturday.

Kewell's side lost 6-3 on aggregate having conceded a 33rd- minute penalty following a VAR review that was converted by Kaku before their goalkeeper William Popp was sent off in first-half stoppage time for a foul on Soufiane Rahimi.

Moroccan striker Rahimi scored twice in a virtuoso display with Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba also netting a late brace as Al Ain won the title for the first time since 2003.

But Kewell was incensed by the performance of Tantashev and accused the Uzbek official of falling for the host side's gamesmanship.

"My players were fantastic, it's just a shame that we got robbed tonight by a bad referee," said the Australian, who replaced compatriot Kevin Muscat as Marinos coach at the end of December.

"I thought the refereeing decisions were shocking, they were terrible. They were playing the game and he fell for it. But congratulations."

Marinos went into the game holding a 2-1 lead from the first leg in Japan and had been followed almost 8,000 kilometres to the United Arab Emirates by a sizeable travelling fanbase.

They were to be left heartbroken as Kewell's team, chasing the club's first AFC Champions League title, collapsed in the second half as Al Ain scored three times after Popp's sending- off.

The goalkeeper's dismissal was the latest in a string of red cards for Marinos players in this year's competition, with the club progressing through the last 16, quarterfinals and semifinals despite being a man down at some point during each round.

"The support has been excellent, they're fantastic to travel the way they did," Kewell said. "It's just a shame it wasn't a fair enough game to be able to put on a good show."