MELBOURNE: Japanese superstar Keisuke Honda scored on his A-League debut in front of 40,000 fans, but it wasn’t enough to secure three points in a pulsating Melbourne derby on the opening weekend of the Australian season.
The former AC Milan player, one of the highest profile names in Asian football, powered a header past Melbourne City goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic after 28 minutes.
But his Melbourne Victory team let the lead slip when Ritchie De Laet followed up on Lawrence Thomas’ penalty save shortly before halftime. Later, City substitute Riley McGree made it 2-1 with 20 minutes left.
Despite Honda being in the thick of the action, there was no way back for the reigning champions.
While disappointed with defeat, Victory coach Kevin Muscat was impressed by new signing Honda.
“He’s a very, very clever footballer, the understanding that he’s got with his teammates in such a short period of time, he was exciting,” he said.
“It’s a good starting point for us to keep building and getting better.”
Elsewhere, former Bolton Wanderers striker Adam Le Fondre pounced late in the game to earn 2017 champions Sydney FC a point in a 1-1 draw against Adelaide United.
“We expect to get better as the season goes along,” said Sydney coach Steve Corica of his first game in charge after taking over from Graham Arnold, who left to become the new Australia boss.
New Zealand side Wellington Phoenix got their season off to a flyer with a 2-1 win against the Newcastle Jets, while the team sprint king Usain Bolt is trying out with, Central Coast Mariners, earned a 1-1 draw away to Brisbane Roar.
The 100 metres world record holder, who turned down an offer from Maltese champions Valletta during the week, has yet to be offered a contract by the Mariners and was not in the squad.
A-League chiefs are hoping the arrival of Honda and the presence of Bolt will help reverse dwindling ticket sales and tumbling TV ratings in a crowded sporting market.