Western Sydney step closer to ACL semifinals
Western Sydney Wanderers have one hand on a ticket to the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League after stunning reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande in the first leg in Parramatta.
The Wanderers could not have been more unfancied in the first leg of the quarter-final as they battled not just a lack of match fitness but the wealthiest club in Asia who are just eight games away from a fourth consecutive Chinese League title.
At times it was ugly and in many ways that played into the hands of the under prepared Wanderers who drew the more skilful Guangzhou away from the heat of a Chinese summer into a physical and fiery battle on a cold winter's night in Sydney.
They lacked their normal suffocating defence and speed on the counter but they made that up in sheer grit that bore the frustration of Evergrande's star-studded lineup. The decisive moment came via a stroke of luck that arrived via labour, a reminder to the adage "the harder you work, the luckier you get."
Early scuffed chances by Mark Bridge and Labinot Haliti were symbolic of the Wanderers style of play; fragmented, slow and disjointed - hallmarks of a team in the infancy of their pre-season.
They should have conceded on numerous occasions through the first half but were saved by last-ditch defending, a vigilant linesman and some poor finishing by Evergrande's strikers. Though, as rusty as thieir play was, it was often masked by determination.
Even when their off-cue passes threatened to derail their famed counter-attacks, they somehow muscled their way through the Asian champions and through endeavour and fortune, they again should've opened the scoring.
A cross to the far post found the unmarked Shannon Cole but the shortest man on the team showed why he is not a threat in the air as he slammed his header into the earth and wide of the near-empty net he was standing in front of.
That miss should have been further punished in the dying moments of the first half as exhausted defending by the Wanderers presented a chance for midfielder Liao Lisheng with a chance on the edge of the box.
His left-foot drive punched its way through a packed box but Ante Covic showed his experience to follow the path and tip the shot wide of the goal, ensuring a deadlock remained at half-time.
If the Wanderers started the match looking like a team at the start of their pre-season, they returned to the field one ready for the start of the league.
There was more poise in possession and purpose in attack, so much so that even World Cup winner Alberto Gilardino was looking frustrated as he was starved of the ball.
Antony Golec cut in from the left flank to whip in a low cross, or perhaps even shot, with his weaker right foot. It bobbled, swerved and curved towards goal in a confusing attempt, and that may be why it decieved all the visiting defenders as well.
The 17,093 fans were stunned at what they just saw as a delayed jubilation followed the awkward manner in which the Western Sydney Wanderers assumed the lead against the cashed-up juggernaut of Asian football.
In the aftermath of what surely embarrassed Guangzhou Evergrande, star playmaker Alessandro Diamanti was hauled off the field and replaced by another multi-million signing,Yu Hanchao.
They surged forwad but with the same luck.
A cut-back to Gilardino inside the box gave the Italian striker a good chance to score a trademark target man goal but even he fumbled at the final hurdle as the ball came stuck between his legs.
Their misery was sealed when fullback Zhang Lin Peng was sent-off for elbowing Iacopo La Rocca in the dying minutes before Gao Lin followed him down the tunnel in a case of mistaken identity.
In the ensuing chaos, coach Marcello Lippi and the full bench of Evergrande ran on the field in protest and while their cause had merit, it mattered little as Western Sydney announced themselves as challengers in Asia.
Meanwhile, Central Coast Mariners advanced to the second round of the FFA Cup with a 1-0 win over South Coast Wolves at WIN Stadium.
An early goal from Glen Trifiro proved enough as the Mariners held off a determined performance from their NSW Premier League opponents.
Sydney Morning Herald