The Western Sydney Wanderers are into the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League on their first attempt having overcome all the odds to defeat Guangzhou Evergrande over two legs.
Holding a 1-0 lead going into the away leg, the team had to deal with late night phone calls and door knocks in the hotel, cars crashing into their bus on the way and lasers being shone and bottles thrown at the stadium.
But deal with that they did as a Tomi Juric penalty gave the Red & Black a critical away goal and a lead they never relinquished.
It was a performance that brought everything the Wanderers have shown in their short, but rich, history; tenacity, never-say-die attitude, smarts and just enough flair to trouble the opposition.
It was an incredible performance that means the Wanderers incredible journey continues; with last season’s finalist FC Seoul up next.
It was the first half clean sheet, the ninth consecutive Champions League match the Wanderers have kept the opponent scoreless in the first half, that set-up the Red & Black for victory.
While Evergrande had the most of the possession, they found it difficult to find gaps in the Wanderers defence; the away side instead looking the most dangerous on the counter.
The exception being when a rash tackle by Iacopo La Rocca saw Elkeson awarded a penalty but the Brazilian was denied expertly by Ante Covic who elbowed the ball clear as the spot-kick was struck down the middle.
The second half was more of the same with Wanderers content to soak up pressure before unleashing counter-attack after counter-attack.
Evergrande had no answer for the Wanderers impressive performance and went into panic mode just 13 minutes after the break as the Red & Black broke through.
Mark Bridge found himself one-one with Zeng Cheng and despite getting a shot in was brought down by the keeper for a penalty, which was coolly converted by Juric to silence the home fans.
Claims for a red card were waved away by the referee with Evergrande’s cover-defence closing in meaning Cheng got away with only a yellow.
The goal meant Guangzhou needed to score three times to advance and they managed to get one back just two minutes later.
It was the Italians who combined with Alberto Gilardino nodding down for Alessandro Diamanti to blast it under Covic with a powerful strike from just inside the box.
It sparked a frantic finale as the home side laid siege to the Wanderers goal and despite the Chinese club grabbing a late consolation goal the Wanderers held on to become just the second Australian club after Adelaide United in 2008 to make the ACL semi-finals on what was a momentous night for the club.
For an A-League club, out-of-season to knock-out the defending champions over two legs is an incredible effort, without taking into account the financial disparity and the fact this is the Wanderers’ first ever appearance in this tournament.
It was a night that will remain long in the memories of Wanderers fans and other supporters of Australian football who witnessed the display.
The semi-final will be held on Wednesday 17 September (in Korea) followed by the second leg on Wednesday 1 October in Australia.
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