Victory stun Kashima in Japan to advance in AFC Champions League
Melbourne Victory are through to the AFC Champions League Group Stage after stunning the competition's 2018 Champions Kashima Antlers 1-0 in Japan.
Andrew Nabbout’s deflected strike snared the Victory’s advance early in the second half as Carlos Salvachua’s side tactically out-witted their J1 League opponents at a rain-soaked Kashima Soccer Stadium.
The win is the first ever away from home at any stage of the AFC Champions League for the Victory – ending a 22 match winless record from their travels around the continent.
It also marks the first win in any competition for the Victory since Salvachua took the reins of the side earlier this month.
The result secures the Victory an eighth appearance in the AFC Group Stages - where they will now contest Group E - and the second time they have successfully negotiated the AFC Champions League Qualifying Rounds.
The Victory now join Hyundai A-League Premiers Perth Glory (Group F) and Hyundai A-League Champions Sydney FC (Group H) in the competition’s group stages.
Kenny Athiu was given a surprise start ahead of Ola Toivonen atop the Victory formation and the lanky attacker threatened early with a fifth minute snap strike over the bar on the back of a clever run by Robbie Kruse.
The hosts struggled to settle early and blazed a 15th minute free-kick from Katsuya Nagato high but soon threatened the target proper as Lawrence Thomas palmed away a fierce 17th minute from Ryuji Izumi.
However, the Victory soon settled into their new-look back three formation and soaked up mounting Kashima possession in the increasingly heavy rain.
The weight of possession eventually told though as Everaldo came close to finding the opener for the hosts when the Brazilian’s 32nd minute looping header clipped the crossbar.
Victory remained patient - with Kruse and Athiu proving tireless up front - and found their first shot on target on the 37th minute when Jakob Poulsen forced a save from Kashima goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-Tae with a long range drive.
However, Kashima sought to capitalise on the counter and responded just a minute later as Leo Silva pushed a side-footed stab wide of the back post after finding space in the box.
The balance remained until the half with only a half-hearted penalty appeal from Kruse following a scrappy run into the box offering further promise for the Victory before the break.
A bright start to the second stanza nearly delivered results - with Andrew Nabbout seeing his 51st minute swerving, long-range drive tipped away by scrambling Kwoun.
However, Kashima soon paid the price for giving Nabbout a second chance when he delivered the opening goal - his left-footed strike from outside the box taking a deflection off the lunging Tatsuki Nara to loop over Kwoun.
The hosts upped their tempo and press in response but had to wait until the 66th minute to against test Thomas but the Victory gloveman was up to task to deny a close range effort from Nagato.
Thomas again had to be alert on 70 minutes when James Donachie miscued an attempted clearance to a Nagato cross and forced his keeper to spare his blushes with a save.
Kashima kept coming as Everaldo drew another save from Thomas with a 74th minute volley and substitute Ryohei Shirasaki also called upon the Victory gloveman with a deflected strike from range.
Taking an increasingly defensive posture, Victory invited more pressure as Kashima's Sho Ito failed to find on the slide from another dangerous Hirose delivery before Storm Roux survived a half-hearted penalty shout after a tangle in the box.
The shots kept coming from Kashima as Juan Alano's drove an angled strike at directly at Thomas on 82 minutes before Kento Misao skewed an effort wide of the target.
The unflappable Thomas was called on twice more prior to injury time as he pushed away Shoma Doi's 89th minute snap shot in the box, before Juan Alano again could only direct a flat strike straight at the keeper with his side's final shot of the contest.
HOW TO WATCH: Every match in Hyundai A-League Round 17
Perth Glory v Melbourne Victory
Saturday, 1 February 2020
Kick off: 6.45pm local, 9.45pm AEDT