Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat says he makes no apology for substituting star striker Besart Berisha in last night’s 1-0 Asian Champions League win over Japanese club Kawasaki Frontale.
With Victory third and the Japanese side last in Group F going into the match, both sides desperately chased the three points in an entertaining affair at AAMI Park.
A loss or even a draw would have made it tough for Muscat’s men to advance past the group stage, but a Kosta Barbarouses strike in the 90th minute sealed a vital home win.
However, there was one sour note for the home side, with striker Berisha furious at being substituted in the 70th minute.
Gesticulating and yelling, the fiery Albanian stormed past Muscat to take his place on the bench.
But Muscat said he had no problems with Berisha or his decision to substitute him.
“No-one’s happy when they come off, but I’m more interested in what the ones who are going to come on are going to do,” Muscat said.
“The contribution from the boys who came on was exactly what was required for the team … that’s what I’m interested in more.
“I’ll have a look at it and whatever those conversations are [with Berisha] they will remain private.”
Despite the results, Victory remain third on goal difference with two matches remaining in the group stage.
But they have drawn level with second-placed Ulsan Hyundai on five points after the Koreans were defeated 1-0 by Chinese giants Shanghai SIPG, who top the group with 10 points and have already qualified for the knockout stage.
“It’s a massive scalp for the football club, a massive scalp for Australian football and it’s a proud night for us,” Muscat said.
“To take four points off them over two games … we’re still well in the competition.”
Muscat’s men travel to South Korea to play Ulsan before hosting Shanghai to round out the group stage.
Sydney FC draws in Japan
Meanwhile, Matt Simon broke his two-year goal drought to give Sydney FC’s disastrous ACL campaign a lifeline.
The Sky Blues drew 1-1 with Group H leaders Kashima Antlers in Japan, falling behind to a set piece before a stirring second-half fightback paved the way for Simon’s 70th-minute equaliser.
It was the pugnacious striker’s first ACL goal in nine years and one that could yet help the reigning A-League champions return from the brink.
That will depend how they fare against Suwon Bluewings, who triumphed over Shanghai Shenhua 2-0.
With two home defeats, two away draws and an unenviable goal difference, Sydney’s chances of progressing from dead last remain slim, and Alex Brosque will rue skewing a shot agonisingly wide with 15 minutes remaining.
“I thought we were the better side, we deserved to win the game,” Graham Arnold said.
“Disappointing to concede off a set piece again. Kashima have scored three goals against us, all three from corners — not a goal in general play.”