Loss in Melbourne piles pressure on Guangzhou
Evergrande's AFC Champions League title defence looking shaky as 'bookend' goals from Victory secure hosts' win
Guangzhou Evergrande's grasp on their AFC Champions League crown loosened on Tuesday night as a second defeat in a row left Marcello Lippi's and his team's hopes of reaching the knockout phase of this year's competition in the balance.
Goals at either end of the game by Mark Milligan and James Troisi gave Melbourne Victory a deserved 2-0 win over last year's continental champions and crucially cancelled out the head-to-head advantage Guangzhou held over the Australian side after their first meeting at Tianhe Stadium.
Guangzhou were in that match forced to fight back from two goals down at half-time to win 4-2 in front of their home fans, but there was no way back for Lippi's side at Docklands Stadium last night as Evergrande put in a second successive disjointed showing.
Having lost to South Korea's Jeonbuk Motors in their previous outing, Guangzhou needed to secure something from this meeting, but the nature of Milligan's opener after just 80 seconds - when he capitalised on poor concentration in both midfield and defence - was indicative of what has been a disappointing campaign so far.
"I'm very disappointed we couldn't score in the second half, but I'm really disappointed that after less than two minutes we gave Melbourne Victory the opportunity to score the first goal," said Lippi. "This big mistake had a major influence on the game.
"It was good for Melbourne to score this goal after two minutes but we also had good chances and it's a shame we couldn't score.
Melbourne goalkeeper Nathan Coe frustrated Guangzhou's Brazilian duo of Muriqui and Elkeson throughout at Docklands Stadium and, a minute into injury time at the end of the game, Troisi double the scoring from close range to revive Victory's hopes of securing a place in the round of 16.
Yokohama F Marinos' 2-1 win over Jeonbuk in the group's other game means all four teams are level on seven points, with Guangzhou leading the group by virtue of a better head-to-head record over Jeonbuk and a slightly better goal difference over Melbourne.
A win in front of their own fans against the J-League side, who held Guangzhou to a 1-1 draw in their earlier meeting in the competition in Yokohama, will still be enough to see Evergrande go through.
"It all goes down to the last match. We still have the chance to continue our adventure in the AFC Champions League," said Lippi.
"If we lose at home against Yokohama, then it's right that we go out. After losing in Korea and losing in Australia, if we lose at home then we don't deserve to go through."