Western Sydney Wanderers have taken a significant step toward winning Australia’s first Asian Champions League title as they managed a win in the first leg at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night. The Wanderers managed a 1-0 win over Al-Hilal from Riyadh which gives them a first half lead, heading back to Saudi Arabia next week.
Both sides went for the match in the early stages as the teams were determined to find an early goal to take control of the final. Al-Hilal had the first chance of the match as Salem Al Dossary crossed in but it was sent over the bar.
It was end-to-end in the opening stages as Daniel Mullen was able to make headway down the right but was stopped by the Al-Hilaldefens. Al-Hilal could well have hit the opener in the sixth minute as they attempted a through ball but the ball to Salman Al-Faraj was cut out by Anthony Golec.
Quickly Al-Hilal took charge of the match with Western Sydney affording the Saudis too much space which allowed them the chances, Nasser Al Shamrani was looking especially dangerous. In the 23rd minute, a phenomenal ball from Al Faraj allowed Abdullah Al Zori to get in to space after a Mullen slip which saw Al Zori volley at goal only to be denied by an Ante Covic save, doing well to cover the ball.
Al-Hilal were looking phenomenally dangerous throughout the first half, seemingly having almost all the ball, but they had nothing to show for it. That was largely due to some strong work from the Sydney FC defence, who did start to get frustrated with the clinical passing from their Saudi opponents with both Nate Poljak and Brendan Santalab seeing bookings after the half-hour; but still they didn’t concede.
Right before the half Al-Hilal had yet another chance, and it came from a defensive error as Al-Hilal put pressure on to Poljak and Shannon Cole to force a turnover. That allowed Thiago Neves to play a through ball for Al Shamrani who ran at goal but sent his effort over the bar, keeping it scoreless at half-time.
The trend continued in the second half as Al-Hilal continued to dominate and just two minutes in to the half they had a decent penalty shout as Brendan Hammil cleared a ball that was for Al Shamrani to set-up but in the effort to clear he appeared to bring down the striker only for the referee to allow play to continue.
Despite Al-Hilal completely dominating the match a substitution, TomiJuric on for Santalab, seemed to swing the match to Western Sydney and in the 64th minute they stunned Asia as they took the lead. Golec sent in a curling cross across goal which fell to new man Juric who was able to stroke the ball home for the opening goal of the final.
That didn’t see Al-Hilal drop their heads and they probably should have had a penalty in the 70thminute. After a cross found Al Shamrani and his shot went over the bar, it came off of Hammil’s arm on the way leaving the Saudis furious.
In the 72nd minute Western Sydney could well have made it two as a counter again allowed Juric to run in to the box. He made his great run and then shot at goal but saw his effort bounce off the post as he tried to place it in the corner.
Al-Hilal again had another chance in the 84th minute as Al Zori crossed in for Al Dosari but his poor header let Western Syndey off the hook. With one minute to play Covic rescued Western Sydney stealing the ball from Neves diving at his feet to claim possession.
There were two more chance to Al-Hilal in stoppage time with Al Dosary played through one-one-one with Covic but again Covic made the save, standing tall to make the save. In the fourth minute of stoppage time a golden opportunity came to Al Hilal as Nikolai Topor-Stanley was called for a handball at the top of the area, allowing Neves to hit a free-kick which was blocked by the wall. That missed opportunity was the last effort for Al Hilal giving Western Sydney the 1-0 advantage to take to Riyadh.