Guangzhou too strong in China


Melbourne Victory’s opening Asian Champions League encounter has ended in defeat, after failing to hold on to a 2-0 half-time lead.

Melbourne Victory’s opening Asian Champions League encounter has ended in defeat, after failing to hold on to a 2-0 half-time lead.

Victory appeared on course to restore A-League pride in Asia when they led 2-0 after the first stanza away to competition holders Evergrande, courtesy of goals from the unlikely figures of Pablo Contreras and Leigh Broxham.

But the reigning Chinese Super League champions asserted their dominance in the second half at Tianhe Stadium, with a brace from star signing Alessandro Diamanti and Elkeson’s goal securing a comprehensive comeback win for the home side.

Victory made three changes from the team which beat Adelaide 4-3 on Saturday. Jason Geria replaced Scott Galloway at right-back, while Jesse Makarounas and Kosta Barbarouses came in for Guilherme Finkler – who was not selected in the ACL squad – and the injured Tom Rogic.

Mark Milligan enjoyed the best early chance of the game in the 15th minute, shooting straight at the goalkeeper when played in one-on-one by Jason Geria’s deft chip.

The Victory skipper had already come within inches of registering a spectacular opener from a long-range free-kick.

Perhaps jolted into action, Evergrande created a decent opening of their own, Diamanti playing in Muriqui down the hosts’ left flank, but the Brazilian’s effort was saved by Nathan Coe.

Victory’s sharp passing and ability to get in behind the home team’s defence should have served as a warning for Marcello Lippi’s men, but it wasn’t headed.

In the 36th minute Barbarouses, connecting well with a clearance, dispatched a goal-bound shot which Zeng Cheng could only palm away. Contreras, carelessly played on-side, was on hand to tuck the ball home and give Victory a deserved 1-0 lead.

It got better for the visitors five minutes later. Another clearance to the edge of the area fell perfectly for Broxham, and the on-rushing midfielder lashed a superbly timed volley past the helpless keeper.

Lippi responded at the break, removing the misfiring Muriqui in favour of Liao Lisheng, and the switch proved to be a masterstroke from the World Cup-winning coach, as Evergrande made a far better start to the second period.

Contreras was soon called on to make another vital contribution, getting back to clear a Diamanti free-kick off the line and preserve the two-goal lead he helped to establish.

But there was nothing the Chilean could do to prevent the hosts getting one back on the hour mark, Huang Bowen lashing a well-taken shot beyond Coe from just outside the area.

Just six minutes later the hosts were level. Diamanti did well to turn his man and unleash a vicious strike from distance, which flew through the hands of Coe at his near post.

By the 71st minute the hosts had completed their whirlwind comeback. A hopeful long ball was collected by Elkeson in the Victory penalty area and the forward was able to control and dispatch a shot to the far post, this time beating Coe after the ball clipped the ankles of Nick Ansell.

In complete contrast to their impressive first-half display, the visitors struggled to mount a meaningful attack after the break, as they were left reeling by Evergrande’s ruthless resurgence.

Any hope of salvaging a point evaporated with five minutes remaining, when Diamanti nut-megged Contereras before toe-poking the ball past Coe to complete his hat-trick.

Victory must now pick themselves up and prepare for the derby against Melbourne Heart on Saturday, with their next ACL fixture at home to Jeonbuk Motors on March 12.

Guangzhou Evergrande 4 (59′ Bowen, 65′, 85′ Diamanti, 71′ Elkeson)
Melbourne Victory 2 (36′ Contreras, 41′ Broxham)