Melbourne Victory have kept their Asian Champions League (ACL) dreams alive with a 2-0 win over reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande.
In a pulsating game, an early goal from skipper Mark Milligan set the Victory on their way, giving them a chance to qualify for the knock-out rounds with a win in Korea next week.
The win, capped by a late James Troisi goal, also gives first-season manager Kevin Muscat the scalp of World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi.
With barely 90 seconds played, Victory had a 1-0 advantage over their Chinese Super League opponents.
The Victory’s skipper took advantage of indecisive possession from Guangzhou, winning the ball and passing to Jesse Makarounas before exploding forward and finishing his own work.
The referee’s whistle to start the match hadn’t roused the Chinese champions and neither did the goal – the fifth time in as many games the Victory had taken an ACL lead.
Time and time again, the Victory were able to get behind Guangzhou’s defence, exploiting their high full-backs.
Time and time again, the Victory were able to get behind Guangzhou’s defence
The most gilt-edged chance fell to Kosta Barbarouses, who was given half a pitch to run into with the ball and without defenders, only to be spoiled by goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.
An early tactical substitution by Guangzhou boss Lippi righted their ship, with Muriqui given a similar one-on-one chance, only to be denied by Nathan Coe.
The contest had developed in a free for all, with Pablo Contreras heading off the line from a vicious Sun Xiang half-volley.
The second half continued with the same pace, with Makarounas and Connor Pain fluffing their shots with only Zeng to beat.
After enduring a torrid time in the reverse fixture, the recalled Coe was at his best to deny Muriqui from close range with 20 minutes left, and again from Feng Renliang five minutes later.
As the Victory lost fluency in attack, Guangzhou were coming home stronger – with Coe at full stretch to his left denying Muriqui with just minutes remaining.
But with the boisterous 13,120-strong crowd wondering how there were not more goals, Troisi capped an energetic performance with an injury-time close-range finish.
Troisi set off towards the bench with his shirt in the air as his coach invaded the pitch in fist-clenching ecstasy.
Wanderers win in Korea
Second-half goals from Mark Bridge and substitute Brendan Santalab lifted Western Sydney Wanderers to a crucial 2-0 AFC Champions League win over Korean powerhouse Ulsan Hyundai.
The win on Tuesday at the Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium pushes the Wanderers to the top of Group H for the first time in what is the club’s first tilt at the continental competition.
Wanderers coach Tony Popovic elected to start without several key personnel including marquee man Shinji Ono, midfield ace Aaron Mooy and regular goalkeeper Ante Covic, while Socceroos defender Mathew Spiranovic unusually started in midfield.
There was a paucity of gilt-edged chances at either end until Bridge broke the deadlock on the hour mark with a towering header after latching onto a Shannon Cole cross.
Bridge then turned provider in latching onto a defensive error and teeing up Santalab for a close-range finish 10 minutes from full-time.
The match contrasted markedly with the previous contest between the pair in Sydney two months ago when Ulsan were comfortable 3-1 winners.
Despite the change in personnel, the Wanderers were solid defensively and replacement goalkeeper Jerrad Tyson was rarely called into action.
Ulsan’s hulking 196cm striker Kim Shin-Wook was well shackled throughout by the Wanderers’ central defensive pairing of Nikolai Topor-Stanley and captain Michael Beauchamp.