thumbnail Hello,

They're back in the AFC Champions League and determined to do well this time. But does the powerhouse A-League side have what it takes to compete with Asia's best clubs?

Comment
By Iain Strachan

In three previous AFC Champions League campaigns, Melbourne Victory resembled an unprepared, underfunded and above all reluctant Aussie backpacker.

With no idea of what to expect and unsure about the whole idea of going overseas in the first place, they ran into trouble quickly and didn't last long in Asia, finding the home comforts of the A-League much more to their liking.

Having scraped past Muangthong United in a chaotic playoff at Geelong's Simonds Stadium on Saturday to make it into the 2014 ACL group stage, will their next foray into the region's elite club competition prove any more successful than their past attempts?

We didn't learn an awful lot at Kardinia Park that we didn't already know about this Victory team.

Nathan Coe, who conceded the opener directly from a corner before going some way to redeeming himself with several good saves in the second half, has looked increasingly error prone as the 2013-14 season continues.

Pablo Contreas, international marquee defender, is just as likely to execute a perfectly timed tackle as he is to concede a needless penalty, or give the ball away in a crucial area.

Both could prove weak links up against Asia's best.

At the moment, the only thing James Troisi does better than getting on the end of good chances is missing them. He should have had a hatful on top of the equaliser he scored from what appeared to be an offside position on Saturday night.

Tom Rogic was the best player on the pitch by a distance, and will surely be a central figure if Victory are to make an impact on the competition for the first time.

And what of Leigh Broxham, the unlikely and fortuitous match-winner in Geelong? The humble hobbit to the rest of Australian football's Gandalf, you can learn all there is to know about 'Brox' in a month, but years later he can still surprise you.

So it was on Saturday, when the modestly talented midfielder lashed home the decisive goal with the aid of a deflection, before getting Muangthong captain Datsakorn Thonglao sent off in injury time for good measure.

While Broxham has improved considerably in recent seasons, he is unlikely to make the difference on many more occasions in Asia this season. That task will fall to captain Mark Milligan.

For all their inconsistencies, and capacity to combine the brilliant with the calamitous, there is one big difference between this Victory team and their predecessors who failed to make a mark on the AFC Champions League.

The Victory side assembled by Ange Postecoglou and inherited by Kevin Muscat, and indeed the club as a whole, claim now to be determined to succeed in Asia, as they seek to extend their sporting and business profile beyond these shores and into fertile neighbouring markets.

Their willing new attitude is by no means a guarantee that things will be any different this time around.

But if the determination they showed to come back from a goal down and overcome the disappointment of a missed penalty to win this game is any indication, perhaps Muscat and his players do have what it takes to surprise Guangzhou Evergrande, Jeonbuk Motors and Yokohama F. Marinos in the months ahead.

Be that as it may, spirit only counts for so much, and they will need to be much better away to reigning champions Evergrande in two weeks' time.

PS

A healthy crowd of just over 8,000 attended Saturday's match in an AFL stronghold. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all will be if Victorian football fans finally embrace the AFC Champions League and turn out in force to cheer on Victory during their Asian adventure. You can be certain Western Sydney Wanderers' supporters will do so.

Related