Guangzhou title defence rocked by Aussie victory
Melbourne Victory player James Troisi celebrates scoring a goal during their AFC Champions League football match against Guangzhou Evergrande in Melbourne on April 15, 2014 - by Mal Fairclough
Marcello Lippi’s side had beaten Victory 4-2 in their earlier meeting, but goals in the opening and closing minutes ensured a shock win in Melbourne and blew Group G wide open.
Elsewhere, Manabu Saito scored twice in two minutes as Yokohama F. Marinos upset former champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 to put all four contenders on seven points ahead of next week’s final group fixtures.
In Group H, Western Sydney Wanders beat Ulsan Hyundai 2-0 to give a massive boost to their hopes of reaching the knock-out stages on their debut in the Asian club competition.
In a dramatic night of action, Australian international Mark Milligan scored in the second minute and James Troisi struck in stoppage time in Melbourne to pull off the biggest surprise of the tournament so far.
It was Victory’s best win in four Champions League campaigns, and means they will reach the knock-out round if they beat 2006 winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in South Korea next week.
Victory were ahead inside the opening 90 seconds, when Milligan won the ball in Guangzhou’s half and passed to Jesse Makarounas before continuing his run and finishing smartly.
The Australian side had several chances to extend their lead in the first half, but Guangzhou came alive after the break and goalkeeper Nathan Coe saved from both Muriqui and Feng Renliang in the game’s final quarter.
Another great save from Coe thwarted a swift Guangzhou counter-attack before substitute Andrew Nabbout and Kosta Barbarouses combined to set up Troisi’s goal in the first minute of stoppage time.
“The most important thing for us was to win and we did that and it’s going to make the last round very interesting,” Coe said.
Lippi’s expensive team came to Melbourne without their tournament top-scorer Alessandro Diamanti, and they badly missed the injured Italian international’s goals and creativity.
The Chinese champions now head into their final group game, at home to Yokohama next Tuesday, knowing they need a win to make sure of keeping their title defence alive.
In Ulsan, Western Sydney kept the shocks rolling as second-half goals from Mark Bridge and Brendon Santalab downed the 2012 champions and put the Australian side provisionally top of Group H and eyeing the last 16.
In West Asia, Iran’s Foolad Sepahan handed 2011 champions Al Sadd a 4-0 thrashing in Group D – the Qataris having suffered a 5-0 rout by Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal earlier this month.
After a goalless first half, the Iranians hit a purple patch with Mehdi Sharifi scoring twice early on resumption and substitute Xhevahir Sukaj adding a third. An own goal by Al Sadd defender Ibrahim Majed in stoppage time sealed an emphatic win for Sepahan and kept their hopes alive of a spot in the last 16.
Al Sadd though can still qualify if they win their next match, but Qatar Stars league champions Lekhwiya crashed out after a humiliating 5-0 defeat at home to inaugural AFC champions Al Ain of the UAE in Group C.
Al Ain, who became the first team to qualify for the knockout stages, were served well by Ghanaian Asamoah Gyan who scored twice late in the match after setting up goals for Ibrahim Diaky, Alex Brosque and Mohamed Abdulrahman earlier.
Saudi side Al Ittihad also made it to the last 16, goals on either side of the break by Abdulfattah Asiri and Mukhtar Fallatah giving them a 2-0 win over Tractorsazi of Iran, who crashed out after the defeat.
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