The Western Sydney Wanderers have beaten Guangzhou Evergrande on away goals to advance to the semi-final round of the Asian Champions League (ACL).
Guangzhou piled on pressure for most of the match but the richest club in Asia — soon to win it’s fourth consecutive Chinese Super League title — wasn’t able to eliminate one of the region's youngest clubs despite winning this match 2-1.
The Wanderers took at 1-0 lead into the second leg of the tie, knowing Guangzhou were a threatening attacking presence and to protect that would require total commitment.
A match on foreign soil in the ACL is never easy and this one in Guangzhou was more difficult — the stadium was full and loud, the opposition included Italian world cup winners and even the photographers around the pitch appeared to be cheering for the home side.
Home fans attacked the Wanderers bus on the way to the stadium, they harassed the side at the hotel by ringing them early in the morning and laser pointers were directed at the players during the match.
With the Wanderers on the back foot for the majority of the match the turning point came in the 31st minute when Brazilian star Elkeson beat Shannon Cole on the left only to be cut down in the box by Iacopo La Rocca and awarded a penalty.
Elkeson took the penalty for instead of Alessandro Diamanti, and he went for power down the middle.
Wanderers keeper Ante Covic dived to his right but the shot was just off target and his reaction just quick enough to get an arm on the ball that going into the net behind him and deflect it away.
Going down 1-0 so early in the match could have been fatal for the Wanderers but they were saved by their keeper.
Somehow the Wanderers were the first to trouble the scorers.
Mark Bridge was brought down in the box by Guangzhou goalkeeper Zeng Cheng and Tomi Juric slammed the ball home to the keeper’s left in the 59th minute.
After the goal, cameras cut to Guangzhou coach, Italian, Marcello Lippi who was serving a ban after running onto the pitch in the last match, calmly smoking a cigar from his vantage point in the second tier of the grandstand.
After that the star-studded home side required three goals in 30 minutes to send the Wanderers packing.
They went about scoring those by hitting back almost immediately, when Diamanti smashed home a headed pass from Alberto Gilardino.
The Wanderers spent the last 25 minutes of the match camped on their own goal box, repelling attacks but unable to hold possession.
Eventually that pressure told and Elkeson was rewarded for his best on field display with a goal in the second minute of injury time to set up a tense finish.
Guangzhou were unable to pressure the Wanderers goal after that, as the away side played with the ball in the opposition corners and along the sideline to hold on and progress.
After the match Juric was over the moon.
‘‘Words cant describe this feeling. I’m so proud of our team, for what we did for one another,’’ he said.
‘‘To go into the semi-finals is just a massive achievement.
As the two legs finished one win a-piece and two goals all, the Wanderers progress because they scored a goal away from home.
In their first attempt in the ACL, the Wanderers find themselves in the semi-final, making this all the more impressive.