RIYADH (AFP) – Western Sydney Wanderers can complete a run that will go down in Asian football lore when they take a 1-0 lead into the AFC Champions League final second leg on Saturday.
Just two years after their formation, the tournament debutants from Sydney’s unfashionable west stand on the brink of becoming Australia’s first ever Asian club champions.
Victory over Saudi giants Al Hilal would be another shot in the arm for Australia’s A-League, and a timely boost as the country prepares to host the Asian Cup in January.
Substitute Tomi Juric’s 64th minute strike took the Wanderers halfway to heaven, although there is much work to do in what will be a cauldron atmosphere in Riyadh.
“An away goal is not absolutely vital, but it would be nice. We can’t go out there and just defend,” said defender Daniel Mullen.
“If we do that it is going to be impossible if they do happen to get a goal. We have got to go out and put them under pressure, like we did in the first leg.”
While the Wanderers topped the regular season table and reached the grand final in their inaugural A-League season in 2012/13, few would have expected them to go so far in their maiden AFC Champions League campaign.
But having seen off Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the round of 16, defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande in the last eight and last year’s runners-up FC Seoul in the semi-finals, the Wanderers have earned their title shot.
However, the Wanderers were on the back foot for much of the final’s first leg and they will have to pass another huge test in front of a partisan crowd of 60,000 at the King Fahd International Stadium.
In Riyadh, the vast majority of fans will hope to see Al Hilal overturn the slender deficit and lift their first continental trophy since the Asian Cup Winners’ Cup in 2002.
One Al Hilal player who will try to make history is midfielder Saud Khariri, who can become the first player to win three AFC Champions League winner’s medals after helping Saudi rivals Al Ittihad to back-to-back victories in 2004 and 2005.