Melbourne Victory will feature in the Asian Champions League (ACL) knockout stage for the first time in the A-League club’s short history after beating Japan’s Gamba Osaka 2-1 in Melbourne overnight.
Starting the night even on points – and boasting a superior head-to-head record – with 2015 K-League runner-up Suwon Bluewings in Group G, Victory needed a win to lock up their place in the last 16 of the prestigious competition.
Despite failing to navigate their way past the group stages in their four previous ACL appearances, Victory held their nerve to break the hoodoo through goals from Besart Berisha and Archie Thompson.
Following the hard-fought result, Melbourne Victory manager Kevin Muscat told reporters that he was “elated” to finally break new ground in Asia.
“It’s a big achievement considering we have had five attempts (to qualify before). That joy is overriding. It’s great for the club, we have managed to create some history a couple of times this year, we had never won the FFA Cup either,” Muscat said on Tuesday night.
After winning the A-League champions trophy last year, Melbourne Victory – arguably Australia’s biggest football club – struggled on the domestic front this season, finishing sixth before bowing out in the first week of the finals.
Gamba Osaka, J-League giants, threatened to spoil the show, drawing within a goal in the last five minutes.
“That was typical of our season, that we left the door half open, gave them an opportunity,” Muscat said.
Last night’s game loomed as a potential swansong for club legend Archie Thompson, who has scored 91 times since the club’s maiden season in 2005.
However, the 37-year-old striker helped to prolong his farewell by hitting the scoresheet.
“This is a great result and it’s beautiful to be part of something like this,” Thompson said post-match.
“It’s the first time we’ve got through the group stage and you can’t get rid of me just yet.
“This has given me an unbelievable thirst (for the ACL competition).”
Victory will now prepare for home and away clashes in the round of 16 on May 17 and 24 against the winner of Group E, either South Korea’s Jeonbuk or China’s Jiangsu Sainty.
Elsewhere, Melbourne Victory’s A-League rivals, Sydney FC, turned out a limp performance against Guangzhou Evergrande in China, losing 1-0.
However, the Sky Blues had already clinched their place in the knockout stage prior to the match, and still finished a point clear of Japan’s Urawa Reds at the top of Group H.