Andres Iniesta's Vissel Kobe shrugged off their domestic woes to reach the Asian Champions League quarter-finals with a 3-2 win over fellow Japanese side Yokohama F Marinos on Thursday.
Big-spending Kobe are currently mired in the relegation zone in Japan's J-League but goals from Nanasei Iino, Daiju Sasaki and Yutaro Oda sent them through to the last eight of Asia's top club competition.
"It was a really difficult game but I think this will give us confidence," said Kobe boss Takayuki Yoshida -- the club's third manager this season.
"The players were concentrated from the start and we were able to play the way we set out to. There were some areas where we struggled but that was down to our opponent's quality and that was to be expected."
Earlier in the day, Kim Jin-gyu scored a last-gasp extra-time winner as two-time champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors also advanced to the quarter-finals with a 2-1 win over South Korean rivals Daegu FC.
The game kicked off the East region's knock-out round, with all matches being played in the Japanese city of Saitama and decided over one leg.
Iniesta stayed on the bench as Kobe took on J-League leaders Yokohama at Saitama Stadium, and Iino gave them the lead with only seven minutes on the clock.
Takuma Nishimura equalised for Marinos two minutes later but Sasaki put Kobe back in front from the penalty spot in the 31st minute after Yokohama defender Yuki Saneto had handled in the box.
Yokohama poured forward in the second half but Oda bagged Kobe's third goal 10 minutes from time before Anderson Lopes gave Marinos a late lifeline.
"I think we played with more spirit than they did but they had a chance to equalise right until the end," said Hotaru Yamaguchi, who stood in as Kobe captain in Iniesta's absence.
"We have to make sure we don't let up in the next game."
Yokohama manager Kevin Muscat said the defeat was "emotional" and that his team would "have some regrets".
"One thing that we won't regret is that we continued and we kept going right until the end," said the Australian, adding that "it wasn't our night."
In the day's all-South Korean match-up, substitute Kim bundled the ball home in the 121st minute to secure a hard-fought victory for Jeonbuk with penalties looming.
Song Min-kyu gave Jeonbuk the lead at the start of the second half only for Brazilian Zeca to level for Daegu 10 minutes later with his seventh goal of the competition.
Daegu went into the match in disarray, with manager Choi Won-kwon stepping in to replace Alexandre Gama after the Brazilian quit just days earlier following a poor run of results.