Melbourne Victory has maintained their undefeated home streak against Chinese Asian Champions League (ACL) opposition after holding Guangzhou Evergrande to a 1-1 draw in front of 10,041 fans at AAMI Park.
Two goals in two minutes, Huang Bowen for the visitors in the 24th minute and Jai Ingham for the hosts in the 26th, provided the excitement between the two sides; with a furious second-half effort from Guangzhou unable to produce a winner.
“The main difference (between Tuesday evening’s game and the last meeting between the two sides) was that Melbourne Victory changed many players,” Guangzhou Head Coach Fabio Cannavaro reflected after the game.
“But, more importantly, was that that they were very defensive.
“They were well organised and the didn’t give us much space to use.
“They had 10 players behind the ball.”
Guangzhou had handily dispatched Victory in the first ACL meeting between the two sides: a brace from Brazilian star Anderson Talisca inside the first 10 minutes combining with a strike from Yang Liyu and own goal from Leigh Broxham to lift the Chinese side to a 4-0 win in a contest Kevin Muscat admitted his side were “comprehensively outclassed” in.
And with Evergrande still engaged in a three-way dogfight for one of the two spots on offer in the next round of the ACL and fielding an unchanged line-up from that 4-0 hammering combined with Victory already all but eliminated from the tournament and with their thoughts beginning to turn to a possible Melbourne Derby Elimination Final in a fortnights time – the scene for Tuesday night’s contest to prove just as ugly was set.
Victory’s fans certainly didn’t seem bristling with confidence about their side’s prospects of jagging a result against the moneybags Chinese Super League side, many of them voting with their feet by simply not making the treck into town for the contest.
As a result, Guangzhou, who had purchased 2,000 tickets ahead of the encounter to distribute among Melbourne’s Chinese community, were ceded control of the atmosphere for the encounter: a wall of red-shirted fans taking up position and erecting barriers behind the Yarra side goals of the ground.
Away bay with just under ten minutes till kickoff.
— Joey Lynch (@joeylynchy) April 23, 2019
The Victory fans that did make the journey to AAMI Park definitely weren’t treated to a first choice starting XI by Muscat: the 45-year-old Victory gaffer sending out a lineup devoid of stars Keisuke Honda, Ola Toivonen, Raul Baena and Kosta Barbarouses.
However, despite all of the factors seemingly foreshadowing a different outcome, a dogged Victory proved capable of hanging in there with their clearly superior foes throughout the contest’s opening 45 minutes.
Victory produced a few early flashes of inspiration, with the pick of the bunch coming when Terry Antonis took a sumptuous touch to set up a long-range effort that was just punched away by goalkeeper Liu Dianzuo.
The visitors were then able to respond with a promising chance of their own in the 22nd minute when Brazilian star Paulinho received a cutback from Zhang Linpeng, turned Thomas Deng and blasted a shot goalward that Lawrence Thomas – starting for the first time since Victory’s win over Perth Glory on 30 March – was just able to save.
Employing a high press, Guangzhou’s superior talent nonetheless forced a breakthrough in the 24th minute when, seizing upon a turnover from Corey Brown, Paulinho stormed through the Victory defence before cutting the ball back to an open Bowen from the byline.
With Thomas caught out of position protecting his near post, the 31-year-old Bowen was able to calmly place the ball into the open half of the net to give his side the lead.
Just two minutes later, though, the determined hosts brought it back to equilibrium when Ingham – who had only registered 19 minutes Victory since suffering a long-term injury in round three of the A-League season– found himself in just the right place at just the right time.
Ghosting, unmarked, into the box from a position on the left as Victory broke through the middle, the New Zealander was in a perfect position to snap up a ball knocked into his path by a sliding challenge from defender Gao Zhunyi and hammer an effort into the back of the net.
Guangzhou should have taken the lead on the half an hour mark when a ball was floated in towards their other star Brazilian, Anderson Talisca, inside the six-yard box.
However, the star – who came into the contest having scored a brace in his last Super League game – was unable to make proper contact with the ball and could only dribble it wide.
Level on six points with fellow Group F sides Daegu and Sanfrecce Hiroshima, a draw was potentially disastrous for the future of Guangzhou’s ACL campaign; leading to an elevation of intensity in the second half.
A goal scorer in the first meeting between the two sides, Liyu tried his luck with a long-range shot from outside the area that Thomas was forced to turn out for a corner close to the hour mark, before Talisca almost went viral when an attempted bicycle kick – his second in as many minutes – just went wide.
A minute later the Brazilian almost turned provider when he swung a ball behind the Victory defence and into the path of substitute Yu Hanchao, only for the ball to bounce just beyond his reach.
The action kicking into another gear, Victory then marched up the other end of the field and sent a scare through Guangzhou when Antonis blasted an effort on goal from outside the area that just flew beyond the far post.
With just three minutes remaining, Paulinho almost provided a late winner for his side when he got his head to a cross from Bowen; only for the ball to then sail wide of the post.
With the game becoming increasingly frantic, Kenny Athiu had a penalty shout turned down just before the 90 minutes expired before, up the other end, Talisca had one final chance to win it from a set piece as the game ticked over to injury time – only for his effort to find the side netting.
Melbourne Victory: 1 (Ingham 26′)
20. Lawrence THOMAS (Gk), 2. Storm ROUX, 3. Corey BROWN, 7. Kenny ATHIU, 8. Terry ANTONIS, 14. Thomas DENG, 16. Josh HOPE (Akbari 80’), 17. James DONACHIE, 21. Carl VALERI (c) (Lesiotis 73’), 23. Jai INGHAM (Palazzolo 84’), 24. ELVIS KAMSOBA
Subs: 1. Matt ACTION (Gk), 19. Rahmat AKBARI, 25. Anthony LESIOTIS, 27. Aaron ANDERSON, 28. Ben CARRIGAN, 29. Thiel IRADUKUNDA, 32. Jack PALAZZOLO
Guangzhou Evergrande: (Bowen 24’)
32. Liu DIANZUO (Gk), 4. Tyias BROWNING, 5. Zhang LINPENG, 8. PAULINHO, 9. Anderson TALISCA, 13. He CHAO (Yan 68′), 16. Huang BOWEN, 17. Yang LIYU, 21. Gao ZHUNYI (Xuepeng 77′), 23. Park JISU, 29. Gao LIN (c) (HANCHAO 61’)
Subs: 1. Liu SHIBO (Gk), 2. Liu YIMING, 11. Zhang XIUWEI, 15. Yan DINGHAO, 20. Yu HANCHAO, 25. Deng HANWEN, 35. Li XUEPENG