Carlos Salvachúa has his first win as Melbourne Victory boss under his belt after his new side downed Indonesia club Bali United 5-0 in AFC Champions League action on Tuesday night.
With their coach welcoming the ACL as a chance to bed down his style on his new charges, Victory carried over the momentum from their promising attacking conclusion to their 1-0 round 15 defeat to Adelaide United
But unfortunately for the Victory contingent of the 5387 fans in attendance, the profligacy in front of goal that had also featured in their defeat to the Reds, carried over in the first half with the boys in Navy Blue somehow only able to take a 1-0 lead from a promising early stint after Migjen Basha fired home in the 14th minute.
Stirring to life, the visiting Indonesians were able to force the contest onto a more even keel for a 20-minute spell in the middle of the opening stanza – Antonius Platje spurring a number of chances for the visitors – but Josh Hope’s goal in the 37th minute served to dampen any flickering hopes of an upset.
They were then extinguished in the 59th minute when a close-range effort from Kruse was bundled over the line and laid to rest in the 81st when Ola Toivonen – making his return from injury – made it 4-0.
In the feel-good moment of the night, Elvis Kamsoba then put the cherry on the sundae in the 90th minute to make it 5-0 and score his first goal for the club since he joined them in January 2018.
“Happy with the result,” Salvachúa said post-game. “Now we have the chance to go to Japan.
"It’s important for us to build up the team with good results. We don’t have a lot of time to train and we need to take every chance to get better.”
Victory's first clear chance of the contest arrived after just three minutes when Adama Traore – mercilessly bundling defender Yabes Roni out of the contest – got the down the left flank and laid in a cross that Robbie Kruse was just unable to flick on.
Two spurned chances by Andrew Nabbout in the seventh and eighth minute followed, before Kruse's leisurely attempt at a shot was charged down by the Balinese defence in the ninth.
Supplying the pass to set up Kruse was Kamsoba, who was here, there and everywhere on Tuesday, with the Victory cult hero doing everything but score.
It was the Burundi international’s assist – a sumptuous backheel after being found at the top of the area by Storm Roux – that set up Basha’s opener before he almost had one of his own in the 19th minute with a spectacular attempt at an overhead kick that went wide.
Moving up the end after a chance for Platje went wide, Kamsoba, somehow, then failed to secure his maiden Victory goal in the 22nd after a close-range header found the post and bounced back to him only for goalkeeper Wawan Hendrawan to then save his follow-up.
Forcing their way into the game – perhaps even gaining the ascendency for a very brief period – Platje had two golden chances to bring the game level;in the 27th and 30th minute before Victory, completely failing to apply any defensive pressure, allowed Paulo Sergio Goncalves to waltz down the middle of the field and fired a long-range shot that forced a save from Thomas in the 35th minute.
It was followed a minute later by big centre back Willian Pacheco putting a backheeled effort wide from close range.
However, Hope’s 37th minute strike after the Tasmanian was found by Kruse inside the six-yard-box served to let the air out of Bali’s balloon – the side in white failing to truly threaten an upset the rest of the contest.
When Anthony Lesiotis combined with Kamsoba on his way to the byline and set up Kruse for the third it was all over red rover and Toivonen put the cherry on the sundae in the 81st minute when he, with an almost disdainful air, lofted a half-volleyed effort into the back of the net from the corner of the penalty area following a failed clearance.
Comfortable, but not dominant.
As expected, Victory started Tuesday evening’s contest with a bang. Carlos Salvachúa’s side ran wild as they produced chance after chance after chance that, somehow, only produced a single goal in the opening twenty minutes.
However, Bali United’s brief revival was able to send a few scares through the Victory’s defensive ranks, who were perhaps fortunate that Platje didn’t have his shooting boots on.
“Every time we had a chance, we failed to convert it into the goal,” Bali United Head Coach Emral Abus said via a translator post-game. “When Victory had a chance they were able to score a goal.
“Platje did not play well, he was not playing as well as he did in Singapore. The defenders from Victory did a very good job in marking him.”
Any equaliser that the Indonesians would have found in that stretch would not have been completely against the run of play
Of course, Hope’s 37th minute served to snuff out the danger of the comeback and Bali – who had only played a single game in the past month – began to run out of legs as the second half wound down.
Tuesday’s performance was a passing grade for Victory, but not the thumping one it could have been.
For Victory, their win on Tuesday comes with good news and bad news.
In good news – they’ve advanced out of the preliminary stages of qualifying and only a one-off, play-off round stands between them and qualification for the group stages of the Champions League proper.
In bad news – that play-off fixture is against 2018 ACL Champions Kashima Antlers… and it’s next Tuesday… in Japan.
Set to be led by newly appointed manager Antônio Zago, who replaced Go Oiwa after the latter stepped down following the Antlers 2-0 defeat in the Emperor’s Cup Final to Vissel Kobe the Asian powerhouses finished third in the J-League in 2019.
The winner of that fixture will then be sorted in Group E alongside China's Beijing FC and Thailand's Chaingrai United.
They present a monumental challenge to Victory, and that’s even before you take into account the fixture pile-up that awaits.
Prior to their flight to Japan, Victory will play A-League pacesetters Sydney FC on Friday night and are scheduled to travel to Perth to take on third-placed Glory the following Saturday.
It certainly presents a baptism of fire for Salvachúa and if he’s somehow able to take at least two wins from the coming stretch of three games he’ll have produced a minor miracle but his squad are welcoming the challenge.
"We’ve only played 15 games this season," Robbie Kruse said post-game. "You don’t want to miss games as players and we have really good staff to recover.
"We get to go to Japan, one of the biggest clubs in Asia with a sold-out stadium and a great atmosphere."
The Elvis Kamsoba Show
Even if Victory is pantsed by Kashima in next week’s fixture, the 2020 ACL will always hold a special place in the heart of Kamsoba.
The Victory dynamo has toiled for over a year looking for his first goal in a Victory shirt after signing from NPL side Avondale, time after time coming within inches of reaching that special mark only to be denied.
Even that signing was a monumental achievement for the 23-year-old, who came to Australia as a refugee and had spent a number of years in both the NPL SA and NPL VIC competitions.
Who can forget round one of the 2019/20 A-League season, when he wheeled away with a trademark backflipping celebration only to be denied when the goal was called back from a narrow offside call?
He was at his buzzsawing best on Friday night and could possibly have had three on another night. But now, at least he has one to his name.
Victory staff believe that Kamsoba is the type of player that, now the dam has been breached, can produce a flood of chances and goals in the second half of the season.