Melbourne Victory have kept their Asian Champions League (ACL) dreams alive with a 2-0 win over reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande.
In a pulsating game, an early goal from skipper Mark Milligan set the Victory on their way, giving them a chance to qualify for the knock-out rounds with a win in Korea next week.
The win, capped by a late James Troisi goal, also gives first-season manager Kevin Muscat the scalp of World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi.
With barely 90 seconds played, Victory had a 1-0 advantage over their Chinese Super League opponents.
The Victory’s skipper took advantage of indecisive possession from Guangzhou, winning the ball and passing to Jesse Makarounas before exploding forward and finishing his own work.
The referee’s whistle to start the match hadn’t roused the Chinese champions and neither did the goal – the fifth time in as many games the Victory had taken an ACL lead.
Time and time again, the Victory were able to get behind Guangzhou’s defence, exploiting their high full-backs.
The most gilt-edged chance fell to Kosta Barbarouses, who was given half a pitch to run into with the ball and without defenders, only to be spoiled by goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.
An early tactical substitution by Guangzhou boss Lippi righted their ship, with Muriqui given a similar one-on-one chance, only to be denied by Nathan Coe.
The contest had developed in a free for all, with Pablo Contreras heading off the line from a vicious Sun Xiang half-volley.
The second half continued with the same pace, with Makarounas and Connor Pain fluffing their shots with only Zeng to beat.
After enduring a torrid time in the reverse fixture, the recalled Coe was at his best to deny Muriqui from close range with 20 minutes left, and again from Feng Renliang five minutes later.
As the Victory lost fluency in attack, Guangzhou were coming home stronger – with Coe at full stretch to his left denying Muriqui with just minutes remaining.
But with the boisterous 13,120-strong crowd wondering how there were not more goals, Troisi capped an energetic performance with an injury-time close-range finish.
Troisi set off towards the bench with his shirt in the air as his coach invaded the pitch in fist-clenching ecstasy.
The Asian champions were beaten.
Muscat, who made six changes from the side which defeated Wellington 4-1 on Saturday, said his team didn’t have a bad performer.
“I’m so proud of the group. It was an immense performance against a very good team,” he said.
“At the start, maybe we weren’t taken so seriously when people saw our group … we go to Jeonbuk for our last game with our destiny in our hands.”
Victory did suffer the loss of Adrian Leijer with a potentially serious foot injury, which Muscat said he would have scans for on Wednesday.
With Yokohama’s 2-1 win over Jeonbuk Motors in the group’s other game, each side stands with eight points and one game remaining.
Lippi blamed “many, many mistakes” in his defence and organisation but said there was still the promise of a final home game.
“But we still have a chance to continue the Champions League adventure if we win at home,” he said through a translator.