Melbourne Victory’s Asian Champions League hopes were dealt a fatal blow on Wednesday night, humbled 4-0 by a dominant Guangzhou Evergrande in their Asian Champions League clash in China.
The Chinese powerhouse took the lead within the first few minutes through Brazilian superstar Anderson Talisca and it was all Guangzhou from there, with Victory never recovering and scarcely threatening.
Ultimately, with no points from their first three games, the task of reaching the last 16 now appears beyond the A-League champions’ reach.
Talisca started and finished the attack that opened the floodgates. He drove a long ball cross-field and made a late dart into the box to cap off his own play with a simple header from close range.
The Brazilian then doubled Guangzhou’s lead with a spectacular curling effort before Yang Liyu hammered the nail in Victory’s coffin with a third goal before the first half had even ended.
To rub salt in the wounds, Leigh Broxham conceded an unfortunate own goal in the second stanza to condemn Victory to another away loss.
This guy. Insanely good.
— Daily Football Show (@DFS_AUS) April 10, 2019
Victory crash out of the ACL
This season, things were meant to be different in Asia. Victory invested heavily to bring in the superstar name of Keisuke Honda and strengthened the attack with Ola Toivonen too. The goal was not only to show their dominance in the A-League – which they have failed to do – but more importantly, make history in the Asian Champions League.
What Victory fans have been given though are failings that we are all too familiar with, particularly in Asia: defensively naive and failing to make the most out of the few chances they do get makes for poor viewing.
Their efforts against Guangzhou were not the reason for again crashing out of the continent at the group stages; it was only the final blow. It was the incapability to beat the seventh-best team in South Korea last season and then against Japan’s representative that has shown disregard for the ACL in the past.
Barring a miracle three wins in their next three matches, Victory are out once again and it is time to ask questions deeper than removing salary caps because this is a club that has spent big. Even more shocking was that Kevin Muscat only named five substitutes when seven are available. To some, the lack of options off the bench made it feel like the Victory manager had given up before the first whistle was even blown.
No points to speak of from their first three games in Asia is also damaging to the A-League. If both Victory and Sydney FC fall in the group stages once again, it is very likely Australia will lose an automatic qualification spot into the tournament in 2021.
Talisca’s on a different level
Perhaps Muscat was so focused on keeping the La Liga champion Paulinho quiet that he forgot another Brazilian, Talisca, might be an issue too. He did not wait to make his mark on the game with two goals in the first 10 minutes securing the tie and putting Guangzhou into auto-pilot for the rest of the game.
What was most spectacular about Talisca’s goals was that in both cases, he picked up the ball on the right halfway line, shifted the ball effortlessly to the other flank and then twice came up to end the play that he initiated.
The way the former Benfica man was going, he could have had a hat-trick in the first 15 minutes after hitting the crossbar from a free kick before either of his goals, too.
It appeared Guangzhou manager and Italian World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro had identified that side as a weakness in Victory and Talisca was left one-on-one with the helpless Corey Brown. There is not much one can do but stand and applaud when a player of Talisca’s class puts on such a show.
Expecting Victory to compete consistently with players whose yearly salaries probably surpasses that of the whole A-League is unrealistic, so let’s just admire what Talisca did last night.
Back to square one for Victory
With the A-League about to reach the finals, Victory are losing pace at the worst time possible. A loss in the Big Blue the past weekend coupled with a loss in China will have severely damaged squad morale.
Muscat will now need to rebuild his tactics heading into crunch time because right now, the team is missing the fluency they had near the middle of the season when Toivonen and Honda were both at their best.
Although Victory are far from a championship-winning side, they know better than anyone that it only takes three wins to lift the title.
This season might be considered a waste given they failed in the ACL with a likely third-place finish domestically, but retaining their title would push away all those bad thoughts, even if it is just papering over the cracks.