Daiki Watari's late goal carries Sanfrecce Hiroshima past Melbourne Victory


Daiki Watari netted a late winner as Sanfrecce Hiroshima spoiled Keisuke Honda’s homecoming with a 2-1 defeat of Melbourne Victory in Asian Champions League Group F on Tuesday.

In other ACL action, Sho Ito scored two early goals before Graziano Pelle struck back with a brace of his own as titleholders Kashima Antlers battled for a 2-2 draw away to Shandong Luneng in Group E.

Former Samurai Blue superstar Honda looked to have secured a share of the points for the Australian club in the 71st minute at Edion Stadium when he canceled out Shunki Higashi’s early opener.

But 25-year-old forward Watari, who has struggled for playing time with Sanfrecce, scored with four minutes left, striking with a skillfully angled header off a cross from Yoshifumi Kashiwa.

Sanfrecce had taken the lead three minutes in, when Brazilian forward Patric made a storming run down the right before teeing up Higashi to score from directly in front.

Playing his first competitive club game in Japan since 2007, former CSKA Moscow and AC Milan playmaker Honda was heavily involved for the visitors from the outset.

He fired wide from long range as Victory looked to hit on the counter late in the first half, then shot over the bar from a similar position in the 59th minute.

The visitors’ equalizer came on a well-executed counterattack, with Storm Roux providing the cross for Honda’s goal from the middle of the area.

The 32-year-old Honda said he was confident Victory could progress in the tournament despite dropping to the bottom of Group F with two straight losses.

“Sanfrecce played very well and applied pressure the whole 90 minutes,” Honda said. “We still have four (group) games left. We won’t give up.”

At Jinan Olympic Sports Center, all four goals came before halftime in the first-ever meeting between Antlers and Shandong, who finished third last season in the Chinese Super League.

Ito put the visitors ahead in the 10th minute when he beat Shandong ‘keeper Wang Dalei from inside the box. He doubled the lead four minutes later, running onto a through ball from Taiki Hirato to score from the right of the area.

Pelle scored from the spot in the 20th minute after Kento Misao conceded a penalty for handball. The former Italy striker leveled the scores four minutes from the break when he beat Antlers custodian Kwoun Sun-tae from the right of the penalty spot.

Former Belgium midfielder Marouane Fellaini, who joined Shandong from Manchester United last month, got free for a header inside the box midway through the second half but sent the ball over the bar.

With a minute left, Wang saved a close-range attempt from Antlers midfielder Leo Silva to keep the scores deadlocked.

The result sees Antlers remain at the top of the group with four points from their two matches.