This Saturday we will play in the biggest match possible for clubs in the Asian Football Confederation when we take on Al-Hilal in the AFC Champions League Final.
Having been crowned the best team in East Asia after defeating FC Seoul in the Semi-Final we have earned the right to take on the best of West Asia over two legs.
What is the AFC Champions League
The Champions League is a tournament to find the best club team in the Asian Football Confederation with the top teams from each country pitted against each other.
It is an extremely prestigious tournament with some of the world’s richest clubs participating. Only once before has an Australian team made the final when Adelaide United lost 5-0 to Japan’s Gamba Osaka in 2008.
Winners of the AFC Champions League qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup to find the best team in the world.
How did we qualify
We qualified for the 2014 edition of the Champions League thanks to winning the Hyundai A-League Premiership in 2013. Melbourne Victory and Central Coast Mariners also qualified due to their league positions but both were knocked out in the Group Stages.
The journey so far
Our journey to the Champions League Final began in the best possible way with Brendon Santalab scoring in the opening 40 seconds of our opening match against Ulsan Hyundai. Ultimately the 2012 winners won that match 3-1 which caused doubts to be raised in the media about our ability to perform at this level.
Realistically though it was a match we dominated, only losing due to three errors being punished; the type you could get away with in the A-League. With a renewed focus in training on cutting out all errors there was an air of confidence going into our first away match against Guizhou Renhe.
Despite what was labelled by outsiders as a weakened team, a top performance on a dreadful pitch ended with a 1-0 win, giving us the belief that we had what it takes to go far in this tournament.
From there wins against Kawasaki Frontale, an away win against Ulsan Hyundai and a huge 5-0 romp against Guizhou Renhe saw us top the group in style, setting up a Round of 16 battle against Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Despite losing the A-League Grand Final only three days prior to the first leg against Sanfrecce, an away goal in a credible 3-1 loss was enough to ensure we had a chance to progress in the home leg.
Sure enough, a goal by Santalab late in the return leg at home saw us progress in an emotional farewell match for a number of our Club’s legends.
Our biggest challenge was to come though having drawn defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande in the Quarter Final. Not only was the Chinese team one of the richest club’s in the world featuring World Cup winning coaches and players, they were in the midst of their season while we had not played a competitive game for months.
A fiery home leg saw us take a 1-0 lead with Evergrande’s frustrations evident as their expected walk-over did not eventuate.
In incredible scenes Evergrande coach Marcello Lippi stormed onto the pitch confronting all and sundry; our players, our staff and even the referee! His little performance led to a pitch-side ban for the next leg as well as suspensions to two of their key players due to red cards.
Our best performance of the tournament was saved for the return leg where we were faced with dirty tactics from Evergrande fans which included late night phone calls and door knocks in the hotel and even a fan twice ramming his car into our team bus on the way to the ground!
Despite this we did enough to qualify on away goals thanks to a Tomi Juric penalty before despatching last season’s runners-up FC Seoul in the Semi-Final.
While it was always the belief amongst the squad that we could make it this far, qualifying for the Final has been an incredible achievement against all odds.
Having gone into all our matches bar one as underdogs, it is with pride that we will represent Western Sydney and Australia in Asia’s biggest match.
How to win
Just as with all knockout rounds, the Champions League Final will be held over two legs with the team with the most aggregate goals declared the winner.
If both teams score the same amount of goals it will be the team who scored the most away goals that is the champion.
If scores are still even after away goals then the match will be decided by extra time and, if needed, a penalty shoot-out.
Fox Sports 3 will be providing live coverage from 7pm. Kick-off is 7:30pm.