Sydney FC have claimed an important 1-1 draw away to Shandong Luneng in the AFC Champions League (ACL) Round of 16 as their goal led a charmed life.
Diego Tardelli’s second-half equaliser denied Sydney victory in China in the Round of 16 first leg on Wednesday but the Sky Blues were in fact lucky to avoid defeat.
Before David Carney gave the visitors the lead on the quarter-hour mark, Sydney goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic saved a penalty, while Shandong failed to convert two other huge opportunities in the first half.
The hosts’ profligacy ensured Sydney will head home for next week’s second leg ahead in the tie on the away goals rule.
In their maiden ACL knockout stage appearance, Sydney could have been 2-0 down inside 10 minutes.
In the opening minute, Rhyan Grant’s outstretched leg deflected Wu Xinghan’s shot over the bar after a great run and cutback from Liu Binbin.
Then six minutes later, Janjetovic tripped Wu in the box but the 28-year-old gloveman made amends by palming Walter Montillo’s spot-kick away.
Sydney broke the deadlock in the 15th minute with a flowing move that saw Milos Dimitrijevic’s pass pierce the hosts’ defence, releasing Riley Woodcock in behind and the left-back crossed for Carney to nod home.
Tardelli, who had been under an injury cloud before the match, should have levelled in the 28th minute but could only blast another cutback from Liu over the bar.
Brandon O’Neill almost added a second goal for Sydney three minutes into the second half but his header was cleared off the line by Zheng Zheng, while Shandong midfielder Li Wei made the crossbar shake from 30 yards soon after.
Shandong would notch a deserved equaliser in the 56th minute, however, with Jucilei nodding down a corner, allowing Tardelli to pounce and lift the ball into the roof of the net.
It was the 31-year-old forward’s sixth goal in the 2016 ACL, with the Brazilian having also scored in a play-off win over Adelaide United in February.
Shandong looked more dangerous in the final half hour but produced few genuine scoring chances as Sydney held on for a vital draw that puts them in the box seat for the ACL quarter-finals.