Melbourne Victory ended their AFC Champions League (ACL) hoodoo with a 2-1 win over Gamba Osaka on Tuesday night to qualify for the Round of 16.
In four previous ACL campaigns, Victory had never managed to progress from their group but will finally get a chance to play knockout continental football after finishing second in Group G.
First-half goals to Besart Berisha and Archie Thompson saw the home side triumph at AAMI Park – the latter helping ensure his Victory career continues for two more matches after it was announced last week that he hasn’t been offered a new contract.
In the last 16, Victory will host the winners of Group E – which could be Jeonbuk Motors, Jiangsu Suning or FC Tokyo – on May 17 before heading abroad for the return leg a week later.
Gamba, who brought a squad missing 10 first-team players to Australia, literally handed the hosts the lead in Melbourne.
Shun Nagasawa blocked Oliver Bozanic’s shot with his left hand inside the box and Berisha converted the spot-kick.
It was 2-0 just three minutes later as Kosta Barbarouses got ahead of full-back Ryo Hatsuse, who seemed surprised to see the Kiwi challenge him for the ball, and the Victory winger teed up Thompson for a tap-in.
In a sloppy opening for the visitors, Victory kept winning possession in Gamba’s defensive half.
Bozanic should have done better when he surged into the box, while Barbarouses almost added a third goal but his shot was parried onto the post by Gamba goalkeeper Yosuke Fujigaya.
The match got progressively more open in the second half, with Gamba ensuring a nervous finale for Victory after Adelmilson bundled the ball home from an 84th-minute corner.
The win ensured Victory (9 points) finished above Suwon Bluewings in Group G on head-to-head after the K. League club defeated leaders Shanghai SIPG (12) 3-0.
Group E will be decided on Wednesday when Jeonbuk host Jiangsu and Tokyo visit Binh Duong.