Melbourne Victory’s seventh foray into the Asian Champions League has begun in defeat, beaten 3-1 by a fast-finishing Daegu FC in front of 5,572 fans at AAMI Park on Tuesday night.
Though Victory started on the front foot and took a deserved lead through Ola Toivonen, it lasted scarcely 60 seconds as Daegu struck right back, and from there overran their Australian hosts.
Toivonen put Victory ahead in style on 29 minutes, working hard to close in on his defender, assume front spot and crisply turn in Kosta Barbarouses’ delivery from the right-hand side.
But the advantage was gone in a flash as the visitors found a way back into the game immediately in perhaps greater class. Brazilians Edgar and Cesinha linked up, and the latter volleyed home beyond Lawrence Thomas’ reach.
Victory then fell behind some five minutes after half time when Hwang Soon-min cannoned an effort off the back of full-back Storm Roux, and the heavy deflection left Thomas stranded.
Edgar then continued and ultimately rounded out the Daegu onslaught, outmuscling Thomas Deng in Victory’s penalty area before recovering and turning the ball into the corner for a 3-1 lead.
Victory miss their big chance
Being at home on matchday one of any continental competition is what every team wants. It is a chance to springboard the campaign and get ahead of group rivals early in the piece.
Victory are, by now, well-versed in Asia. This is their seventh attempt at the region’s premier club competition, but their success rate is low with just one campaign extending beyond the group stages.
This time around, there was a real hope Victory would make it lucky number seven and make waves in the continent. Chinese giants Guangzhou Evergrande speak for themselves, but Group F’s other members were an unknown quantity.
Japan’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima only just qualified for the group stage, downing Thai side Chiangrai United at home, while Daegu earned their debut in the tournament as Korean Cup winners.
By comparison to Sydney FC’s Group H, the pool seemed escapable. But Victory spurned their opportunity on opening day, despite looking the goods early, and were overrun by the Koreans.
Burly striker Edgar as well as Brazilian counterpart Cesinha were a constant thorn in their side and proved too hot to handle overall.
Keisuke Honda was off the boil, squandering two openings at important times of the match. The first in particular, a simple strike from the penalty spot, was guilt-edged. Had the World Cup goalscorer picked his spot either side of Jo Hyeon-woo, it was in.
Next up is a trip to Hiroshima, where homecoming hero Honda will likely be the centre of attention. It is already a must win. In Asia, home games simply must be won.
The Toivonen difference
Keisuke Honda took all the fanfare after signing for Victory at the start of the 2018-19 season and rightfully so. After all, his acquisition was, in part, to be the headline and be the contention of feature stories.
But while the Japanese star’s influence and importance to Victory is undoubted, big Swede Toivonen has surpassed him as an indispensable cog in their 4-4-2 diamond setup.
Throughout the A-League season, Toivonen has shown the value of a true poacher to a football team, able to turn one, two, maybe three chances into goals, and did so again with Daegu in town.
Toivonen often dropped deeper and created play – a quality not seen elsewhere in the squad – acting as a true target-man and it was only a stunning reflex save from Jo that denied him a second.
— Melbourne Victory (@gomvfc) March 5, 2019
Shirt farce leaves Victory red-faced
Victory were made to play in rather bland-looking white away kits after a last-minute about-face some 20 minutes prior to kick-off concerning their front-of-shirt sponsor for the 2019 tournament.
Issues surrounded their sponsor Kaishi and whether their business contravened AFC regulations concerning prohibited types of shirt sponsorship, including the likes of tobacco and, in this case, gambling.
Victory sought to clarify their stance following public critique on Tuesday via a statement, but that was followed by a second press release shortly before kick-off issuing something of a rebuttal.
“While appropriate due diligence was undertaken prior to the announcement and the AFC approved Kaishi, since that time further information has come to light which raises concerns about Kaishi’s link to an online betting agency, which the club takes very seriously,” it read.
On top of the changed shirts, the section of Thomas’ goalkeeper kit normally displaying sponsorship had to be covered with matching green tape.