Last hurrah as Thompson steers Victory into knock-outs
Departing veteran Archie Thompson extended his Melbourne Victory career when he struck a rare AFC Champions League goal to steer his team into the last 16 on Tuesday.
Thompson, 37, who shed tears last week when announcing the end of his 11-year Victory stint, netted what turned out to be a crucial second goal in a tense 2-1 win over Gamba Osaka.
In their final group game, Victory looked to be cruising into the knock-out stages at 2-0 up until Ademilson pulled one back for Gamba in the 84th minute, setting up a nervy finale.
But Victory made it through to join A-League rivals Sydney FC in the next phase, in what has been a strong performance by the Australian teams heading into their domestic post-season.
Victory qualify second in Group G behind Sven-Goran Eriksson's Shanghai SIPG, whose 0-3 defeat at the hands of Suwon Samsung Bluewings ultimately made no difference to the standings.
Victory held the edge going into the final pool games as they lay second, ahead of Suwon, on goals scored, and two strikes in the space of three minutes put them within sight of the last 16.
Gamba's Shun Nagasawa gave them a helping hand, literally, when he illegally parried the ball in the box and Besart Berisha stroked the opener from the spot after 13 minutes.
Then Thompson, whose contract will not be renewed this year, quickly made it two when he was picked out by Daniel Georgievski for a simple finish past Gamba's Yosuke Fujigaya.
With Suwon leading Shanghai SIPG, Thompson's second career Champions League goal turned out to be vital when Brazilian forward Ademilson scored for Gamba with six minutes left.
In Group H defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande, who were already eliminated, posted a valedictory 1-0 win over Sydney FC thanks to Gao Lin's strike in the second minute.
But Sydney finished top of the group after second-placed Urawa Red Diamonds could only draw 1-1 with Pohang Steelers, with Zlatan Ljubijankic equalising late on for the Japanese side.
Victory's Thompson has enjoyed a distinguished career, highlighted by his world-record 13 goals in Australia's 31-0 demolition of American Samoa in a World Cup qualifier in 2001.
Later, Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal beat already-qualified Tractorsazi of Iran 2-1 to make the knockouts as the second-placed team in Group C.
Brazilian striker Ailton was the hero for Al Hilal as he came off the bench to score the winner in the 72nd minute to give his side 11 points from six matches.
Salem al-Dawsari had put Al Hilal ahead in the 15th minute but Tractorsazi restored parity in the 48th with an Aloys Nong strike before Ailton, coming in as a substitute for Yasir al-Shahrani, punished a defensive lapse by Tractorsazi.
Al Hilal's victory knocked out Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor who thrashed UAE’s Al Jazira 3-0 but finished third with 10 points.
In Group D, the UAE's Al Ain grabbed the second spot with 10 points with a convincing 2-0 victory over Uzbekistan’s Nasaf.
Danilo Moreno and Ismail Ahmed scored either side for Al Ain as they finished second behind already qualified El Jaish of Qatar, who lost 2-0 to Saudi Arabia’s Alh Ahli but still held on to their top spot.
It was the fourth game without defeat for Al Ain, who began with back-to-back defeats against El Jaish before resurrecting their campaign with three wins in their next four matches.
© 2016 AFP