Western Sydney Wanderers FC have taken a huge step towards winning an historic AFC Champions League title with an incredible 1-0 win in the first leg of the final on Saturday night.
In front of more than 20,000 fans at Parramatta Stadium, Tomi Juric came off the bench to score one of the most important goals of his career 19 minutes after the break.
Juric almost doubled the lead soon after when his left-foot strike beat goal-keeper Abdullah Mohammed Alsdairy but cannoned into the post.
The visitors piled on the pressure in the last 15 minutes but some wayward finishing and a couple of brilliant saves from Ante Covic allowed the Wanderers to hold on and take a slender advantage to Riyadh in a week’s time.
WHAT THEY SAID
“We had a tough job today, I think the boys did a fantastic job in defence and in attack as well.
“These things happen in football, you get some and you don’t get some. I was fortunate enough to score the first one but was a bit unlucky with the second one.”
“That was the goal at the beginning, to try and get the result and keep a clean sheet which is exactly what we did.
“All around the park they’re a quality side, with some great players but they never broke us down which is credit to us.”
1-0 Juric (64’) – Golec got some rare freedom down the left and swung in an inch-perfect cross, with Juric sliding in to side-foot under Alsdairy from close range.
Juric hadn’t played any competitive football since the ACL semi-final first leg more than a month ago, with coach Tony Popovic waiting until the 58th minute to introduce him into the fray. And it proved an inspired substitution with the Socceroos striker pouncing less than six minutes after coming on.
OPTA DATA KEY STATS
It took until the 63rd minute for the Wanderers to have their first shot at goal, through Shannon Cole’s free-kick which smashed into the wall. At the same stage Al Hilal had tried their luck on 11 occasions but only managed to get three of those attempts on target.
Wanderland has been the scene of some incredible atmospheres over the last couple of seasons but the RBB took it to another level for the ACL decider. With close to 3000 Al Hilal fans also adding plenty of noise and colour, it was a raucous atmosphere for the entire 90 minutes, befitting the importance of the occasion.
In a tight contest of very few chances, Al Hilal’s Saudi international Nassir Alsharani should have done better when presented with a gilt-edged opportunity right on half-time. Faced in a one-on-one situation with Ante Covic from just eight yards out, Alsharani blazed high over the bar to give the home side a reprieve, one they would make the most of in the second half.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
For all their possession Al Hilal rarely managed to get a clear sight of Covic’s goal. The Wanderers back four of Daniel Mullen, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Brendan Hamill and Golec were flawless throughout. The Saudi giants will need to find a way over the next seven days to get more penetration in the attacking third.
THE FINAL WORD
The Wanderers fulfilled their game plan down to the tee. They allowed the visitors all the territory and possession before hitting them on the counter-attack after the break. While the Juric’s goal is huge for the Wanderers, the clean sheet at the other end is arguably more vital. If they can grab a goal in Riyadh next week, Al Hilal will need to score three to take out the title. The Saudi’s will get veteran striker Yasser Al Qhatani back for the second leg and his experience and eye for goal is an added threat.