The Western Sydney Wanderers stunned Asian Champions League (ACL) champions, Guangzhou Evergrande in a testy match that finished with the benches cleared and on the field.
Tomi Juric was awarded the second half winner for the Wanderers after Antony Golec ducked inside a defender on the left and fired a shot from near the edge of the box. Juric seemed to get a subtle touch on the ball as it flew into the bottom corner.
As strikers do, Juric claimed the goal, although replays cast some doubt on it being awarded to him.
After the match Golec wanted everyone to know it was his.
“It’s my goal, that’s my second ACL goal - one for Adelaide and one for Western Sydney - so I’m happy,’’ Golec said.
However the real drama of the match was two straight red cards shown to Guangzhou during the closing minutes; the second one leading to their coaches sensationally storming the pitch, including world cup winning coach, Marcello Lippi.
In the 89th minute Zhang Linpeng was red carded for swinging an elbow at Mark Bridge, who seconds before was riding on Zhang’s back attempting to win the ball.
Then, in time added on, the referee sent Gao Lin off after he appeared to stomp on Wanderers substitute, Vitor Saba who had just been pushed to the ground by another Guangzhou player.
That brought the coaches onto the field and the game ground to a halt for a period of time as the referees were harassed by coaching staff and one visiting assistant coach even pushed Saba.
Lippi was very upset after the match and at the press conference he launched into a monologue about the refereeing instead of taking questions.
Ha made it known he wasn’t happy with the standard of the refereeing and the second decision especially wasn’t a red card in his opinion.
Wanderers coach Tony Popovic saw things differently
“That’s his interpretation but the referee’s made a decision,’’ Popovic said.
“You can’t go on the pitch and I’m sure if I went on the pitch I would have been sent off… you don’t run on the pitch and manhandle a player.’’
It could be argued the referee never had full control of the match and the teams certainly didn’t make it easy for him.
In the opening 10 minutes there were at least five fouls awarded and more could – and it turns out, should – have been to keep the game in control.
During the first half Juric claimed to have been kicked by a Guangzhou in back play but neither referee saw it, to the dismay of the very vocal 17,093-strong crowd.
From there it seemed a lottery as to what the referee might spot and award or ignore and by end of the match, especially with the highly fancied visitors trailing, there was a bit of spite in the tackling.
Despite all the rough-housing, the match was very open and good for viewing.
The visitors had the best of the first half and could have gone ahead early if it wasn’t for a great block in the goal box and a few other passes not sticking.
The Wanderers were caught out on defence, giving too much space to Alessandro Diamanti and Elkeson in particular, which lead to early fouling and a lot of pressure.
Golec said he believed the visitors would wilt as the pressure built and time wore on, and it certainly appeared to happen that way.
“They came out firing and we knew straight away we would be patient and get on the counter,’’ Golec said.
“You saw as the game wore on, especially in the second half, they lost their composure and shape and we just kept attacking them all the time.”
“As the game went on we got more composed and got a lot of confidence.”
In the minutes leading up to their goal the Wanderers found a lot of room to counter attack as Mateo Poljak stole possession numerous times before Labinot Haliti, Shannon Cole and Golec found a lot of space down the flanks.
When the goal came in the 60th minute it was because Golec and Haliti had isolated a defender out on the left and Juric was lurking in the box – the defence didn’t know who to cover and then it was too late.
Now the Wanderers have a single goal lead to defend on the away leg of this huge tie next Wednesday.
Guangzhou will have to adjust as they replace the two red carded players on the right side, but they have a lot of class and will be hard to beat at home.