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Melbourne Victory edge win in Champions League opener

Melbourne (AFP) – An Ola Toivonen penalty ensured Melbourne Victory kicked off their AFC Champions League campaign with a win Tuesday as they look to resurrect a miserable season.

But the 1-0 victory was far from convincing against Chiangrai United, who had a man sent off in their tournament debut after lifting Thailand’s domestic title last season.

It was nevertheless much-needed for Carlos Salvachua’s side, which has won just four of its 17 A-League fixtures this season to sit third from bottom on the 11-team domestic ladder. 

“They made us work for it,” admitted Toivonen. “We controlled the first half but we were a little bit anxious in the second. But it’s always important to get a good start in the group.”

Victory have only once advanced beyond the group stages in seven previous campaigns — when they were eliminated in the round of 16 under then coach Kevin Muscat.

After a slow opening period at AAMI Stadium in Melbourne, Victory began pressing and Toivonen’s curling shot was well saved after 22 minutes.

The deadlock was broken three minutes later when Toivonen was pulled down off the ball in the box and the Swedish striker stepped up to convert the penalty.

Despite the match being largely played in the Chiangrai half, few other chances were created against a stubborn opposition.

Andrew Nabbout went close to a second goal 13 minutes after the restart with his header slamming against the crossbar.

But the Chiangari defence was solid and they began creating their own chances, with Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul unleashing a shot that drifted wide.

Victory’s Elvis Kamsoba fluffed a golden opportunity with 10 minutes left, taking one touch too many and blitzing a shot over the bar from close range.

Chiangrai hung on, but their night ended badly with Thirayu Banhan sent off in the dying minutes for a dangerous tackle.

The opening clash between the other Group E teams, Beijing FC and FC Seoul, has been postponed until April due to fears about the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

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