Keisuke Honda marked his return to Japan with a goal as Melbourne Victory suffered a 2-1 loss to Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the AFC Champions League.
Playing his first competitive club game in his homeland since 2007, Honda had drawn Victory level, cancelling out Shunki Higashi’s opener.
However, Sanfrecce found a late winner through Daiki Watari in the Group F clash in wet conditions on Tuesday.
The host made the perfect start through Higashi, who put away a cutback from Patric in the third minute.
Despite Victory enjoying a good spell in possession, it was Sanfrecce which threatened again in the 11th minute, Lawrence Thomas pushing away a 25-yard strike from Higashi.
Victory continued to have most of the ball as it tried to find a way through a well-organised Sanfrecce, with some nice passing moves cleared after desperate defending.
Honda had a decent chance for Victory in the 34th minute, but the Japanese star fired wide from distance after a nice touch from Kosta Barbarouses.
While it was the visitor dictating, it needed a last-ditch challenge from Leigh Broxham to deny Patric on the stroke of half-time.
Victory continued to push after the break and only a block from Takuya Wada denied Barbarouses in the 50th minute as the game resumed in its same pattern.
A powerful swerving strike from Honda flew narrowly over the crossbar approaching the hour-mark as Victory searched for an equaliser.
At the other end, Thomas made a fine save to deny Tsukasa Morishima before Watari fired wide for the host in the 65th minute.
The chances continued as James Troisi forced Sanfrecce goalkeeper Hirotsugu Nakabayashi to tip his curling 25-yard effort over the bar.
But Victory did find its equaliser through Honda, who scored his seventh goal of the season.
Anthony Lesiotis’ pass released Storm Roux down the right and Honda put away the full-back’s cross.
Thomas made a smart save in a one-on-one with Patric before Barbarouses fired into the side-netting from an angle as both teams attacked.
And Watari scored an 86th-minute winner, heading in a cross from substitute Yoshifumi Kashiwa.
Player in focus
What they said – Roux
on the match…
“It was a tough game. We came up against a good team, a lot of travel in the legs, a lot of hours on the plane, but I think we came out well, we played well, but obviously a tough opponent and they took their chances.”
on meeting Guangzhou Evergrande…
“We’ve got to take every game as it comes so obviously we’ll focus back on domestic now for the next couple of weeks and then leading up to that we’ll definitely go over a game plan and have a look at them because they’re a very strong team so we’ll have to be very prepared.”
AFC Champions League 2019 Match Day 2
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2 (Shunki Higashi 3′, Daiki Watari 86′)
Melbourne Victory 1 (Keisuke Honda 71′)
Sanfrecce Hiroshima: Nakabayashi (gk); Morishima, Araki, Ibayashi, Mizumoto (Kashiwa 77′), Higashi (Salomonsson 45′); Watari, Matsumoto, Wada (Notsuda 83′), Shimizu (c); Patric.
Melbourne Victory: Thomas (gk); Roux, Broxham, Donachie, Brown; Lesiotis (Athiu 77′); Honda (c), Troisi, Baena; Barbarouses, Toivonen (Valeri 63′).
Yellow cards: Brown 54′, Lesiotis 74′, Barbarouses 87′, Donachie 89′
Red cards: Nil
Venue: Hiroshima Athletic Stadium
Victory returns to Hyundai A-League action when it hosts Brisbane Roar at Marvel Stadium on Saturday, March 16.