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Asian adventure continues for Victory, Sydney FC

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Australia will send two clubs to the knock-out phase of the Asian Champions League for the first time after Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC’s breakthroughs last night.

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Both sides reached the last 16 for the first time in their history; Victory on their fifth Asian campaign and Sydney on their third.

Victory won through after a 2-1 home win over Gamba Osaka.

After securing progression coach Kevin Muscat showed genuine emotion to succeed where he had failed three times as a player and once before as manager.

“It’s great for the football club. We’ve managed to create some history,” he said.

“I’m so elated for the group.

“We’ll enjoy this one. I’m immediately focused and turning my attention to the opponents for the next game.”

First-half goals from Besart Berisha and Archie Thompson earned Victory the win.

Victory will discover their opponents tonight, when China’s Jiangsu Suning, FC Tokyo of Japan and Korean club Jeonbuk Hyundai fight for two places.

All possible opponents feature Australian players; Trent Sainsbury is with the Chinese Super League club, Nathan Burns is in the Japanese capital and Erik Paartalu plays for Jeonbuk.

While Victory will play the Group E winner, Sydney FC finished on top of their group and play Group F runner-up Shandong Luneng.

Graham Arnold’s side will travel to Jinan in a fortnight’s time before returning for the home leg a week later.

“Top of the group of death. Great achievement! Thanks to the fans who travelled. Bring on the round of 16,” defender Matt Jurman tweeted after their match, a 1-0 loss to already-eliminated champions Guangzhou Evergrande.

Sydney finished top of their Asian Champions League group despite a 1-0 away loss to defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande in China.

The only goal came after just 82 seconds when veteran striker Gao Lin lashed a first-time shot into the net from just in front of the penalty spot.

Urawa Red Diamonds needed to beat Pohang Steelers to leapfrog Sydney, but were held to a 1-1 draw.

Sydney will face China’s Shandong Luneng FC later in May in the last 16.

Guangzhou hit the post and blew another good chance early, but the Sky Blues played with greater authority as the game progressed.

“It wasn’t the start we wanted – we stated slow,” Arnold said in his post-match TV interview.

“But overall, I was very happy. I thought we played excellent tonight and we had enough chances to win the game.

“I thought we dominated major parts of the game, but it was just the final ball and the goalscoring.”

In the first half, midfielder Milos Ninkovic had a close-range volley blocked and Brandon O’Neill had a free-kick saved.

The visitors were the more-enterprising side after the break and manufactured the majority of goalscoring chances.

Striker Shane Smeltz spurned a couple of good late opportunities. He had a header saved and then volleyed over from a mishit O’Neill shot.

The result completed a grand night for Australian clubs. Victory will tackle the ties in reverse fashion, hosting their opponent first. While home ground advantage in the final leg is generally considered most advantageous, Muscat said he could make a case for hosting first.

“Our opponents have got to come out here and they’re the ones travelling twice,” he said.

“Everyone wants to play second but in this situation … whoever it is has got to come out, play a game and fly back, play a domestic game and play us [again].”

A-LEAGUE CLUBS ROUND OF 16 ASIAN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE TIES

Sydney FC v Shandong Luneng (China)

May 18 – Jinan, China

May 25 – Sydney, Australia

Melbourne Victory v TBC

May 17 – Melbourne, Australia

May 24 – TBC

-AAP

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