SYDNEY (Reuters) – From day one, their maiden Asian Champions League campaign has been a leap into the unknown for the Western Sydney Wanderers, so they feel little trepidation about taking on Saudi heavyweights Al Hilal in the first leg of the final on Saturday.
The Wanderers have stared down a succession of powerful East Asian outfits in the continental club championship and now face their first Middle Eastern opponents at their home Parramatta Stadium.
In contrast to the no-frills team from Sydney’s working class west, founded only two years ago as an expansion club in Australia’s top-flight A-League, Al Hilal boast a rich heritage, powerful connections in the Saudi royal family and a trophy cabinet crammed with domestic silverware and two Asian titles.
The Wanderers, however, have demonstrated that reputations count for nothing on game-day, having downed Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande and FC Seoul in the knockout rounds.
In facing Al Hilal, Wanderers defender Antony Golec suggested ignorance was bliss.
“I wouldn’t have a clue who they are to be honest,” Golec told reporters this week. “I’ll let them do the Googling on us.
“It doesn’t concern me if they’re the best club in the world or the worst… we just focus each day and then we’ll take the game as it comes.”
Al Hilal have done little to shed any light for their opponents, nor endear themselves to local media since arriving, holing up in a luxury hotel near the iconic Sydney Harbour bridge and declining interview requests.
Local media reported that they had rejected the more thrifty Wanderers’ first offer of five-star digs, hyping up a David versus Goliath battle between the local blue-collar battlers and the pampered tourists.
In Parramatta Stadium, a suburban ground a world away from Sydney’s glittering harbour, Al Hilal are likely to feel a hostile reception from Wanderers supporters, regarded the most vociferous soccer fans in Australia.