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Nabbout strike sends Melbourne Victory into Champions League playoff

A brilliant Andrew Nabbout goal secured a memorable win for Melbourne Victory over Japanese powerhouse Kashima Antlers, catapulting the embattled A-League club into the group stages of the AFC Champions League.

The Socceroos striker smashed home a left-foot effort from the edge of the box nine minutes into the second half in wintry conditions at the Kashima Stadium.

It sealed a first ever away win in Asia for the Victory.

With just two A-League wins in the past two months, boasting a poor record in the competition and up against Japan's most decorated club, the Victory seemed at long odds to advance.

The Australian side did, however, need a couple of moments of inspiration from goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas after Nabbout had struck nine minutes into the second half.

The Victory will now line-up alongside Chinese runners-up Beijing FC and Thai champions Chiangrai United.

FC Seoul will round out the group after the Koreans comfortably saw off Malaysia's Kedah 4-1 in another playoff match.

The Victory will face Beijing in their group opener on Feb. 11.

Interim Victory coach Carlos Salvachua had his side looking well-organised and relatively comfortable for the opening hour against an opponent still in preseason.

The Victory started the match brightly and looked comfortable even if it was the home side that had the best sights of goal.

Kashima's Ryuji Izumi forced a strong save from Thomas, before striker Everaldo crashed a towering header against the crossbar on the half-hour mark.

Fellow Brazilian Leo Silva then stabbed a shot wide from near the penalty spot.

Both teams picked up the intensity after the half-time break and Nabbout could have given the Victory the lead, but his speculative effort was impressively tipped away by goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-Tae at full stretch.

Andrew Nabbout scored a great winner to send Melbourne Victory past the Champions League group stages.

The home side's goalkeeper was left helpless, however, as Nabbout's effort from the edge of the penalty area took a looping deflection over his head and into the net.

At the other end, Everaldo was miraculously denied at close-range thanks to some cat-like reflexes from Thomas, while Sho Ito missed a gilt-edged chance to score as the Victory rode their luck against the eight-time Japanese champions.

The Victory defeated Indonesia's Bali United 5-0 in a preliminary playoff match last week, but had previously collected just 11 wins in seven Asian campaigns.

Meanwhile, Sydney FC are set for a massive challenge after Shanghai SIPG eased to a 3-0 victory over Thailand's Buriram United earlier on Tuesday.

The result lifts the big-spending Chinese club into a heavyweight Group H alongside the A-League champions, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Ange Postecoglou's Yokohama F. Marinos.

The Sky Blues and Perth Glory automatically qualified for the group stage as A-League champions and premiers respectively.

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