Wanderers edge Al Hilal in AFC Champions League final first leg

Wanderers edge Al Hilal in AFC Champions League final first leg
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Published October 25th, 2014 - 16:29 GMT via SyndiGate.info

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Western Sydney players celebrate their important victory
Western Sydney players celebrate their important victory

Australia's Western Sydney Wanderers beat Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal 1-0 to seize the early advantage in the two-leg AFC Champions League final in Sydney on Saturday.

Substitute striker Tomi Juric's 64th-minute goal gave the Wanderers a precious lead to take into the second leg in Riyadh next week.

Juric, who added the spark required when he came off the bench in the second half, almost gave the Wanderers a two-goal cushion but his shot came off the post with goalkeeper Abdullah Al Sudairy well beaten.

"It's definitely a big help for us going there in those kind of conditions and we have to perform well over there to finish the job off because it's only half done at the moment," Juric said.

"If we go over there full of confidence as we are now and stick to our structure and our game plan I think we can bring this one home."

Wanderers, in only their third season, are bidding to become the first Australian side to win the Asian showpiece after Adelaide United lost to Japan's Gamba Osaka in the 2008 final.

Coach Tony Popovic praised Juric's game-changing influence.

"His impact was fantastic. It's been seven weeks since he played," Popovic said.

"Tomi scored a fantastic goal, it was a great overlap and a real striker's finish. It's just a shame he didn't get that second one.

"This result has filled us with confidence. We have to recover well and we're in for a tough battle next week.

"But they're going home tonight knowing they're up against a very tough opponent who can win the title over there."

The expensively-assembled Al Hilal dominated the opening half and with Nasser Al Shamrani going close to breaking the deadlock in stoppage time.

But the match turned with the introduction of Juric, who scored seven minutes after coming on for Brendan Santalab.

Defender Antony Golec's teasing cross from the left was met by Juric whose shot went through the legs of Al Sudairy into the net amid wild scenes from the 20,000 full house at Sydney's Parramatta Stadium.

Al Hilal were feeling the pressure and Juric almost made them pay when his volley came back off the left post with the goalkeeper on the ground.

The Saudis had a couple of late chances to score a crucial away goal but goalkeeper Ante Covic made a point blank save to deny Salem Al Dosary and then made a diving save to prevent Yasser Al Shahrani from scoring moments later.

"We played a very good game. We had a lot of chances, but we lost 1-0," Al Hilal's Romanian coach Laurentiu Reghecampf said.

"In the second half we had three or four chances. Their goalkeeper (Covic) did a great job and I think that's why the result is only 1-0 for them. Normally we have to score two or three goals.

"I'm sure after six days when we play the next game my team is going to win.

"We need only to score one goal and we are going to see what the atmosphere will be in Riyadh."

It was Western Sydney's sixth straight win at home in this season's ACL and their defence has now kept a clean sheet in over 10 hours of football.

© Muscat Press and Publishing House SAOC 2014

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