Melbourne Victory 2 Guangzhou Evergrande 0
In what must be one of the sweetest victories of his fledgling coaching career, Kevin Muscat masterminded a two-nil win over the defending champion Guangzhou Evergrande in the Asian Champions League at Docklands on Tuesday night. Resting Archie Thompson and Nick Ansell, being without Tom Rogic through injury and Gui Finkler through an earlier decision, Muscat fielded a very young side, but they did him proud.
Victory struck inside two minutes when skipper Mark Milligan and Kosta Barbarouses exchanged passes leaving the midfielder clear in front of goal and he calmly placed it past Zeng Cheng, the visiting keeper. Barbarouses should have doubled the lead when he had another one-on-one with the goalie but somehow hit him on the legs. Thereafter the two keepers were the stand-out performers as they repelled a series of attacks in what was a very open game. Victory had some good possession at times but the final ball was often delayed or wayward, while Nathan Coe threw his body at attackers and their shots to keep a clean sheet.
Adrian Leijer was heavily tackled and had to limp off with what looked like a serious foot injury. He was replaced by Leigh Broxham, who took up the central defensive role alongside Pablo Contreras who was his usual mixture of coolness and heart-in-the-mouth defending. One header off the goal-line was vital late in the first half.
Victory fans were becoming restless as the visitors piled on the pressure in the second half. The one-goal lead looked very precarious, but Coe and his defenders somehow managed to keep Guangzhou at bay. For a team which finished the A-League season with a negative goal difference this collective effort deserved great praise. When the keeper was stranded for once, it was Jason Geria who rescued Victory as he threw himself in the way of a shot by Muriqi.
World Cup winning coach, Marcello Lippi had played all his cards, even removing his skipper Zheng Zhi for Mei Feng at half-time, while Muscat was able to bring on fresh legs at the death with Andrew Nabbout and Jordan Brown getting a run in place of Connor Pain and Jesse Makarounas. It seemed that Victory would have to hang on to preserve its single-goal advantage but as stoppage time began, they mounted an attack down the left. When the ball came across quickly James Troisi outran a tiring defence to score from close range. The striker was booked for his bare-chested celebration but by that time he could have walked on water as far as the fans were concerned.
There was an excellent crowd, with half the lower level at Docklands decked out in red as the visiting Chinese and local Chinese-Australian fans turned out in force. Around where I was sitting there were many more not sporting the colours and for once the Victory support was outshouted at times. Everyone connected with FFA is hoping that the game in this country will attract large numbers of ‘away’ supporters from Asia and from those who have settled here, permanently or temporarily. This was one of the first occasions when the hopes were realised.