It’s amazing what a ‘small team’ from Western Sydney can do when they put their minds to conquering Asia.
The Asian Champions League Final this morning was another reminder to expect the unexpected from a flurry of Red and Black that continues to take Australia and now Asia by storm.
Heading off with a home 1-0 advantage, the second leg in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia was always going to be a mind-game of dirty tactics and bad sportsmanship. Asia teaching us to expect the worst from teams that are cashed up and happy to lose the plot when results don’t go their way.
The emotion on the field was as intense as it was in the stands, the war of words in the past weeks press a benchmark for intensity that was to play out on the pitch.
Al-Hilal’s wall of blue, with a tifo that would make give Europe’s finest a run for their money, as confident as ever. 24 million dollars worth of talent gives you that confidence against a little known Australian opponent.
For 90 minutes the barrage was constant. Despite the end result, Al-Hilal held 63% of the possession and had a remarkable 25 shots on goal to the Wanderers 3.
The barrage towards the Western Sydney goal was constant and unrelenting. Sydney having no choice but to park the bus and defend for their lives, a credit to the strong defensive strategy deployed by Tony Popovic and most notably the diving efforts of Ante Covic.
Time and time again it was Covic saving the day, standing firm despite the Saudi onslaught. But it was his 84th minute effort which will go down as one of the most important moments in Australia’s short but passionate football history; Al-Hilal captain Yasser Al Qahtani hitting a low cross towards goal, only to be denied by his outstretched right hand.
A game not without controversy, two reasonable penalty claims Al-Hilal’s way denied by referee Nishimura Yuichi who instead decided to keep his whistle inside his pocket, but as is football.
The Wanderers had become Champions of Asia.
Words by Jacob Arnott