The Western Sydney Wanderers became Champions of Asia in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Sunday morning (AEST). After a 0-0 draw with home side Al Hilal, the final result saw the Wanderers win 1-0 on aggregate.
Following an impressive 1-0 win at home the previous week, the Wanderers took their slender advantage into Sunday’s game knowing that one goal could kill off a serious Saudi challenge. But that wasn’t to be for the visitors as their more fancied opponents dominated most of the play straight from the outset.
The Saudi onslaught was relentless, but their finishing was woeful. Al Hilal had a penalty claim waved away just before half time; it appeared to be viewed as a dive by the referee. A snap shot from the edge of the box was blasted wide by the Saudis, keeping the score at 0-0.
A cross from the edge of the box struck the hand of a Wanderers defender, but the Saudi’s appeal was waved away by the referee again. The Al Hilal fans were starting to become restless as another opportunity went begging for their team when a deflected shot was redirected towards the far post, only for an Al Hilal player to head wide of an empty net.
A penalty was waved away yet again by the referee as a break down the left side of the box saw Wanderers keeper Ante Covic run out to collect the ball but missed it as the oncoming striker was bundled over for what most expected to be awarded as a foul.
However, the most significant moment of the game came five minutes from time. A point blank shot from 6 yards out was brilliantly deflected away with a reflex save by Covic. It looked easier to score but his miracle stop now becomes a part of Wanderers folklore.
The full-time whistle was met with scenes of jubilation from the Wanderers players and staff while similar scenes were happening thousands of miles away in Parramatta where 5000 fans were watching their heroes live on a big screen at Centenary Square.
To add to the occasion Covic was named player of the tournament. The veteran keeper who kept 10 clean sheets since the start of the campaign was more than deserving of the honour given his heroics at crucial moments. “It’s unbelievable,” Covic said. “The title of Asian Champions – that’s the prize for me. Something you carry for the rest of your life, but these individual ones are special as well.”
Western Sydney’s amazing story continues to unfold as the win means they now qualify for the World Club Challenge where they will face Cruz Azul of Mexico. If they are to win then they will face none other than European Champions Real Madrid.
Al Hilal 0
Western Sydney Wanderers 0
Player of the Tournament: Ante Covic
Final score: 1-0 on aggregate