Victory, Gamba Osaka share spoils

Melbourne Victory’s AFC Champions League hopes hang in the balance after they played out a 1-1 draw at home against Japanese powerhouse Gamba Osaka.

Melbourne Victory’s AFC Champions League hopes hang in the balance after they played out a 1-1 draw at home against Japanese powerhouse Gamba Osaka.

The result means the Victory were unable to give club stalwart Kevin Muscat a fairytale send-off in his final competitive match on Australian soil, and now need other results to go their way to progress.

Victory looked to be on track for a win early in the night, with Adrian Leijer’s header giving them a 1-0 lead after 12 minutes, but Gamba hit back and levelled proceedings three minutes before the break through Sota Nakazawa.

Victory started brightly in front of a vocal Docklands crowd, and should have gone ahead early when a free-kick from Carlos Hernandez was whipped across the box and only just evaded the head of Leijer.

The Gamba defence looked vulnerable to high balls, and goalkeeper Yosuke Fujigaya didn’t look convincing when he attempted to punch clear a Hernandez free-kick in the 12th minute of the match, but succeeded only in conceding a corner.

From it, Hernandez produced a superb cross that saw Leijer rise high above his marker Nakazawa to thunder a header past the diving Fujigaya, handing Victory the lead.

Moments later the Victory were denied what appeared to be a valid claim for a penalty when Isaka Cernak played the ball off the arm of Akira Kaji, but referee Abdulrehman Abdou waved off the claim.

From that point on however the first half was all Gamba as they pinned the Victory deep inside their own half.

Takashi Usami came close to equalising and his long-range strike was goal bound before being cleared by the head of Leigh Broxham.

Muscat was booked on the 39-minute mark for taking a free-kick before the referee was ready.

Three minutes later Gamba were deservedly back on level terms when a corner broke for Satoshi Yamaguchi and his shot came off the post and into the path of Nakazawa, who needed the simplest of headers to pull his side level at the break.

Muscat could have given Victory the lead eight minutes into the second half when he was picked out by a Hernandez corner at the back post and climbed between two Gamba defenders before looping his header just inches over the bar.

Cernak began posing problems for Gamba on the left flank, and a great cross was well dealt with by Yamaguchi, who coolly deflected it away from the stretching Danny Allsopp.

Thompson embarked on a great run and cut inside the Gamba defence but his left-foot shot was well blocked by Nakazawa.

Gamba were doing most of the defending in the second half but had a good chance to take the lead when Seung-Yong Kim made a great run down the left and found Yasuhito Endo in the middle. But the midfielder’s first-time strike was well held by Tando Velaphi.

The match could have turned in the 71st minute, when Cernak appeared to be brought down by Fujigaya, but the referee dismissed Victory’s penalty claims and booked the winger for diving.

Replays showed the referee may have got the call right with no contact seemingly made between the players. But the decision to book Cernak was a harsh one as his ankle looked to get caught on the turf.

Fujigaya made an excellent save four minutes from the end to keep out a fearsome Hernandez strike and when Thompson poked a volley just wide in injury time after a great ball from Hernandez the sides had to settle for a point apiece.

Melbourne Victory 1 (Leijer 12)
Gamba Osaka 1 (Nazakawa 43)
Crowd: 7,437 at Docklands Stadium