Melbourne Victory continued their horrendous away form in the Asian Champions League on Tuesday night, falling to Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-1 at the Big Arch with a late goal condemning Victory to defeat.
Hiroshima’s Shunki Higashi opened the scoring in only the third minute, after the outstanding Brazilian, Patric, lost his marker to drill the ball along the box for the teenager to comfortably slot into the back of the net.
Japan icon and Victory captain for the night Keisuke Honda returned to his home-country with a splash as he equalised to bring his team back into the game.
Victory were to go home disappointed though, as they succumbed to a late header by Daiki Watari which left Kevin Muscat’s side sitting bottom of Group F after two games in the ACL.
This now means Victory’s trip to China early next month to take on Guangzhou Evergrande is a must-win game if they hope to make it out of the group.
Victory have serious defensive issues
Against both Daegu and Hiroshima, Victory have dominated possession and pushed for three points as their opposition sat back and only looked to counter. That is, until they are forced to attack when the scores are level, and suddenly the situation is completely flipped.
Hiroshima were threatening throughout, but after Victory equalised, their defence simply could not handle the constant threat that Patric and co. provided. This was reminiscent of their loss in the opening fixture of the tournament. Once Daegu fell behind, they found it extremely easy to exploit the holes in the Victory defence.
Right now, opponents are finding it far too simple to open up the Victory defence that they do not even need to attack for the full game. Short spurts of 10 to 15 minutes is enough to put Victory on the back foot and they are almost sure to concede.
What is more concerning is that the majority of Sanfrecce’s team were not regular starters in the league, and they were still able to generate a high number of chances.
Although there are plenty of defenders missing for Muscat’s side – which provide some explanation as to why the team are so open – he desperately needs to figure out some sort of defensive cohesion to ensure his team can compete in the remainder of its games.
— Melbourne Victory (@gomvfc) March 12, 2019
Victory once again show away fragility
Last season, Victory’s form at home was impeccable, with memorable wins against Shanghai SIPG and Kawasaki Frontale. Their problem was that on their travels, they failed to replicate these high standards.
It seems that Muscat has still not figured out the secret to winning away in Asia, as they again struggled to create clear-cut chances against the J-League club.
In fact, even with Victory dominating possession, it was Hiroshima that looked the more potent attacking threat, largely through the excellence of Patric. Last year’s second-highest goalscorer in J1 turned creator for the first goal but still showed his danger time and time again, though he could not find the finishing touch this time around.
The Australian champions looked out of ideas on how to break Sanfrecce’s rigid defence, who were comfortable to sit back and hit Victory on the counter rather than throwing too many numbers forward.
Although they were finally able to find their opening as Storm Roux exploited some space out wide to cut the ball back into Honda, Muscat will still be concerned with how few chances his team created.
TIGHT at the top, and lots of purple… 📈
— Daily Football Show (@DFS_AUS) March 12, 2019
Honda homecoming is one to remember
It just had to be him.
After 12 years away from the country as he made a name for himself and his nation at some of Europe’s top clubs, Honda returned home to show exactly why he is one of Asia’s best. It was not just his calm finish for the goal. The way Honda exuded his class throughout the game as he sought to break down Hiroshima’s sturdy defence was impressive.
It was clear how much this game meant to him. Honda was constantly demanding the ball with his movement and took the game by the collar as he seemed to carry Victory’s ACL burden solely on his shoulders.
It was important not only for Honda, but also for his many fans that have followed him on his journey across the world. That there were so many Japanese fans in Victory shirts is a testament not only to Honda’s marketing power, but simply how much he is adored by his country that so many travelled halfway across the nation to get a glimpse of their hero.
Honda himself will be disappointed that he could not lead his team to a win, but it is at least a small bit of consolation that he was able to score on his homecoming. With his Victory contract ending at the season’s conclusion, could he come back to his country again soon? A-League fans will hope not.