Wanderers in confident mood ahead of AFC final
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — With a narrow one-goal advantage, the Western Sydney Wanderers are confident they can upset Saudi powerhouse Al Hilal in Saturday’s final to become the first Australian club to win an Asian Champions League.
Tomi Juric netted the only goal in last weekend’s first leg in Sydney to give the tournament newcomers a 1-0 win over the two-time Asian champions.
Despite a 16-hour journey for the return leg, Tony Popovic’s squad was in a relaxed mood after arriving in the Saudi capital on Wednesday morning.
“Now we have played against them we know a lot more about them and we are familiar with them,” Sydney defender Antony Golec said. “So for us, it is just fix the little things, and as long as we are mentally tough and we are strong, we have that belief nothing can stand in our way.”
Al Hilal, meanwhile, will be seeking to join South Korea’s Pohang Steelers as the only three-time winners of the competition, adding to the titles it won in 1991 and 2000.
Western Sydney has had trouble winning away from home in its debut season in the continental competition, but did manage to score in defeats to Sanfrecce Hiroshima in Japan and 2013 champion Guangzhou Evergrande in China in the quarterfinals before sharing a 0-0 draw with FC Seoul in South Korea in the semifinals.
“Having the win and a one-goal advantage means we are ahead on aggregate and we have to take a lot of positives from that,” Golec said. “We know it is going to be hard, but we are going to work hard to get it.”
Australian clubs have rarely featured highly toward the end of the competition which has been dominated by South Korean and Japanese teams in the last eight years, with clubs from Qatar and China also winning during that span.
But the Wanderers have put together a remarkable run for such a young club to reach the final.
After topping its group, including 2012 Asian title holder Ulsan Horangi in its debut appearance in the Asian Champions League, Western Sydney had three tough encounters in the knockout stage.
The Wanderers beat Japanese champion Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the second round and, most surprisingly, eliminated Marcello Lippi’s star-studded Guangzhou Evergrande squad in the quarterfinals.
Al Hilal has been consistent and very solid in defense, and will get a boost from the return of striker Yasser Al Qahtani.
Al Qahtani, who was forced to watch from the stands at Parramatta Stadium due to a suspension, will be eligible, giving coach Laurentiu Reghecampf an additional option in attack after the visitors struggled to equalize during the first leg defeat.
“We lost the first game, but I think we will win the trophy in the second game,” said Al Qahtani, who has scored twice for Al Hilal in the Asian Champions League this season.
Al Hilal have lost back-to-back games after also losing the second leg of their semifinal with Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, but are unbeaten at King Fahd International Stadium this season — winning their last five outings while scoring 13 goals and not conceding any.