Melbourne Victory join Shanghai in Asian Champions League last 16; Shandong face Sydney
Second round starts to take shape ahead of tonight’s final games
Melbourne Victory scored twice in the first 17 minutes and held off Japan’s Gamba Osaka 2-1 to secure a place in the second round of the Asian Champions League on Tuesday.
Melbourne finished second in Group G behind Shanghai SIPG, who were already assured of first place ahead of their 3-0 loss to two-time continental champions Suwon in South Korea.
Suwon’s hopes of progression depended on a win at home and a loss for Melbourne.
Kim Gun-hee opened with an early penalty for Suwon, and scored again in the 55th, three minutes after Min Sang-gi.
In Melbourne, Besart Berisha’s 13th-minute penalty and Archie Thompson’s well-timed finished from Kosta Barbarouses’ cross gave the Victory a buffer.
Melbourne hung on to finish with nine points, level with Suwon but had the tiebreaker courtesy of an away goal in their head-to-head matches.
It was Melbourne’s first trip to the knockout stage in five ACL campaigns.
“It’s a big achievement,” Victory coach Kevin Muscat said. “It’s great for the football club and we’ve managed to create some history for a couple of times this year.”
Australia will have two teams in the second round for the first time after Sydney FC topped Group H despite finishing the stage with a 1-0 loss at big-spending Guangzhou Evergrande. Guangzhou, the 2015 champions, scored through Gao Lin in the second minute and withstood a strong challenge from Sydney to finish a disappointing campaign with a win.
“If you had said to me before we started that we would top the group ... I wouldn’t have believed it,” Sydney coach Graham Arnold said.
“But we’ve worked extremely hard, our performances have been excellent ... now we get to play another Chinese team in Shandong, which will be a very tough game.”
Urawa Reds finished second after being held to a 1-1 draw by Pohang Steelers, who were last in the group.
Sydney open against Shandong in China on May 18, and the return match will be a week later in Sydney. Melbourne open at home May 17 against the Group E winner which will be determined after Wednesday’s matches.
In games in west Asia on Tuesday, Tractorsazi Tabriz of Iran qualified first in Group C despite a 2-1 home loss to second-place Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, who are also through to the knockout round.
Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan had a 3-0 home win over Al Jazira of United Arab Emirates, and both teams failed to qualify.
In Group D, El Jaish of Qatar and Al Ain of United Arab Emirates qualified for the second round. Al Ain defeated Nasaf of Uzbekistan 2-0, while El Jaish finished first in the group despite losing 2-0 away to Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia.
Colombian Danilo Asprilla and Ismail Ahmed scored in the win by inaugural ACL champions Al Ain. Asprilla scored six minutes before the end of the first half and Ahmed added a second on fulltime for Al Ain, which qualified second because of an inferior head-to-head record against El Jaish.
“We played with an offensive performance in the first half and controlled proceedings,” Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic said. “We were the better side.”