Honda runs hot in A-League opener
TEENAGER Riley McGree revealed that he was not content playing second fiddle at last month's FIFA Awards, and on Saturday night he made it his mission to steal the thunder of main man Keisuke Honda.
The scene was set for a Honda-inspired Victory win, before the confident McGree won the game within three minutes of coming onto the pitch in what looms as a pre-cursor to a rivalry that will lift a cog this season.
Victory fans should not panic - and can justly cite referee Kurt Ams' woeful penalty call in the first half as a turning point - for the ingredients are there for another stellar campaign.
Kevin Muscat has shrewdly regenerated Victory over the years and 2018-19 appears no different.
Besart Berisha's 2014 arrival marked the dawn of a new era, but with the firebrand striker moving to Japan, this looms as Victory's Honda era.
As Berisha's bullocking style in many ways epitomised the Victory of recent seasons, so will the silky, classy Honda this season.
Honda's intelligence, vision, weight of pass, humility and work-rate were all on display in a grand A-League debut in front of 40,504 at Marvel Stadium which City won 2-1, with a stunning late Eugene Galekovic save from James Troisi robbing Victory a point.
The surprise was his underrated heading ability, which opened the scoring on 28 minutes with Honda struggling to get into the game prior to that.
Honda's role in the passage that led to him finishing was a greater indicator what is to come.
A minute earlier he applied a strong tackle, before cleverly ghosting forward after following the ball where he found a pocket of space and drove forward from the right.
He released Kosta Barbarouses before bursting into the box and as soon as he sensed Storm Roux was about to cross, Honda arced a run to find space.
While Victory were superb in keeping him quiet as he dropped deeper in search of the ball, his European experience saw him find a pocket of space in the box and he rose highest to finish a superb header that give Galekovic no chance.
Appreciative Honda headed straight to Roux to celebrate as he was mobbed by his teammates, underlining how well he's fitted in.
Thereafter he got his foot on the ball more and more, and in more menacing positions though he was a touch rusty with the set pieces, which are usually his bread and better.
The return of Ola Toivonen up front and captain Carl Valeri adding bite to midfield coupled with the organic growth will leave them at the pointy end come finals time.
Honda actually compliments Victory's fellow midfielders in Terry Antonis, Raul Baena, Valeri and even Troisi, who looked sharp and paired up well with the star.
While an extraordinarily baffling decision from the referee aided City, they've also got plenty of improvement left in them, a la last season when they won the corresponding game.
Throw captain Scott Jamieson (he missed with a hamstring strain) back in plus McGree in from the start, together with the many youngsters away on Young Socceroos duty plus the handful of players recovering from injury, there is some serious depth there.
There is also a steel and professionalism, as underlined by the outstanding Ricthie de Laet, who scored the equaliser and provided great industry from right-back.
RATING THE NEW BOYS
Strong, composed and comfortable on the ball. Relishes the physical stuff too and was most fired up after the contentious penalty. Limped off with cramp at the end after an enormous effort.
The Spanish midfielder has bite and he lashed out a few times to stamp his mark on the game, including a professional second half foul on Lachy Wales that earnt him a booking. Displayed some decent skills to boot.
A shrewd debut, where he sat deep, drifted and waited patiently before taking his chance exquisitely when it came. He got more involved as the game went on and will only improve.
The most impactful 24 minutes you'll see. The new signing surprisingly started on the bench but he didn't waste any time when coming on, netting with a brilliant right-foot finish after a clever run.
The Frenchman was quiet and didn't get into the game and that perhaps dented his confidence with a meek penalty saved. Came off after 75 minutes.
The teenage winger kept the Victory defenders honest, busy as he bashed and crashed his way forward while also displaying some clever moves.
RITCHIE DE LAET
A clever nutmeg on Terry Antonis showed he ain't just a defender, ditto his clever tap in after Berenguer's penalty miss. A brilliant defensive display at right-back with plenty of overlap.
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