Melbourne win but face anxious ACL wait

·3-min read

Melbourne City have just missed their target of a five-goal win in Thailand that would have guaranteed them automatic qualification for the knock-out stages of the Asian Champions League.

The Australian champs hammered Filipino side United City 3-0 in Pathum Thani on Saturday to complete their group stages unbeaten.

Yet it was still not enough for them to gain an automatic spot in August's last-16 of the ACL as they could only finish second in their group.

It meant they now face a nervous wait to see if they'll make it through as one of the best three runners-up in the east Asian zone following Sunday's final matches.

There is still genuine hope for them for City will qualify if J League side Vissel Kobe defeat Hong Kong's Kitchee SC in Buriram, Thailand. The Japanese team are favourites to do just that after winning the teams' first game.

It was a frustrating night for Patrick Kisnorbo's men, who went into the match knowing they would need to win by five against the group's worst team to knock Thai side BG Pathum United off top spot on goal difference.

Instead, after Jeonnam's 0-0 draw with Pathum earlier had given them a golden opportunity to snatch the group win from the Thais, they simply didn't grasp their big chance.

City's moment of truth arrived when they were leading 2-0 through a first-half goal from teenager Raphael and a 73rd minute effort from substitute Jamie Maclaren.

A minute after he'd just scored, Socceroo Maclaren was brought down in the box by United City defender Alan Robertson, who was sent off while Melbourne were awarded a penalty.

It gave them the perfect chance to go three up against just 10 men with still quarter of an hour to play - but Maclaren picked himself up only to blaze his spot kick against the bar, and all the momentum was lost.

City did grab a third in stoppage time when Maclaren expertly set up Marco Tilio to fire home.

But it was too little too late, and City only had themselves to blame for what was largely a lacklustre and slightly weary-looking display before they return to Australia to continue their A-League title defence.

City had also kept big guns Maclaren and Andrew Nabbout on the bench, and they made all the difference when they came on just before the hour mark.

Their contributions raised the question of whether City might have made their five-goal target if they'd started the match or been brought on earlier.

"We came here into the unknown and we didn't lose a game. I think it's a fantastic effort from our players. Our players should all be very proud of themselves," said Kisnorbo.

"We created a lot of chances and sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't. Maybe on another day, the score would be different, but I'm happy with what the players have done in this tournament."

Tilio, who was outstanding throughout the competition, shrugged: "Our team showed a lot of character. We don't look at the results, we look at performance, and in the end, I think we showed what we can do in Asia."

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