Socceroo makes long-awaited return as City take a point from six-goal Champions League thriller

A late equaliser scored by Ventforet Kofu substitute Jumma Miyazaki ensured the spoils were shared in a dramatic 3-3 draw with A-Leagues club Melbourne City in the AFC Champions League group stage on Wednesday night.

City led 3-2 late on thanks to a second-half comeback, but opened the door for J2 League outfit Ventforet to find a late reply in a six-goal thriller at Japan National Stadium in Tokyo.

Callum Talbot opened the scoring for City in the fifth minute before an instant reply from Shion Inoue, with Yoshiki Torikai finding the back of the net to give the hosts a 2-1 lead at half-time. City surged back into the lead through goals to Tolgay Arslan and Marin Jakolis before Miyazaki confirmed the spoils would be shared at 3-3.

The Isuzu UTE A-League club will return to Melbourne wondering what could have been after that late equaliser – but will take confidence from the return of star attacker Mathew Leckie who has spent three months out sidelined by a lateral collateral ligament (LCL) injury.

“Well, here’s a sight for sore eyes for Melbourne City fans!” Said the Paramount+ commentator as Leckie replaced Leo Natel in the 76th minute in Tokyo.

The 76-cap Socceroo returns with City sitting ninth in the Isuzu UTE A-League standings – and the AFC Asian Cup on the horizon.

The Socceroos squad is set to be announced in the coming weeks ahead of the tournament’s start date in mid-January.

A draw for City, meanwhile, ensures Ventforet remain top of Group H, and opened the door for Thai club Buriram United to jump into top spot by the end of the evening, though Arthur Papas’ men lost 3-2 to Chinese side Zhejiang in the late kick-off.

City struck first in a breathless first half – and it was Callum Talbot putting the A-Leagues club on top with a rocket sent into the top-right corner off his non-favoured left foot in the fifth minute of play.

But City’s lead would be fleeting; three minutes later Shion Inoue levelled the scores, heading home from close range after a sharp dribbling run from Sota Miura down the left side of the 18-yard box.

Jamie Maclaren struck the woodwork with a header off Talbot’s cross in an opportunity that could have put City 2-1 ahead before a mishap from Curtis Good at the back for the visitors which allowed Yoshiki Torikai to ghost in between the City defender and goalkeeper Jamie Young to lob Ventforet’s second goal into the back of the net.

Ventforet had seven shots to City’s four in the first half, and began the second 45 on the front foot; the hosts were in control up to the hour mark before City were sparked into life by a VAR check that led to a penalty to the A-Leagues outfit.

Leo Natel won the spot kick for City by delivering a cross into the box which deflected off the hand of left-back Miura. Arslan stepped forward to take the penalty and made no mistake, sending the keeper the wrong way and slotting the ball into the bottom-right corner.

The goal sparked City’s resurgence. Five minutes later they had a 3-2 lead, with Marin Jakolis combining with fellow off-season recruit Natel to fire home his first goal in City colours.

Natel picked Jakolis out with an early cross, played into his path for an effortlessly emphatic finish from close range.

Jumma Miyazaki came off the bench in the aftermath of City’s third – and he and fellow substitute Cristiano immediately began to threaten for the home side. It was Cristiano’s header at the back post that sparked a major Miyazaki chance, with the latter volleying on the spin and crashing the side netting.

But soon after, that combination was back in action – and this time, they made it count. Cristiano played a looping cross toward the six-yard box for the diminutive Miyazaki to attack – and thanks to the indecisive goalkeeping of Young, the Ventforet substitute was able to meet the ball with a mistimed header, sending the ball over the line off his shoulder to make it 3-3.