Western Sydney Wanderers One Step Closer to Glory

Wandering to football supremacy
by Perry Tsangas   |   Thursday, August 28, 2014

Oz Football – column on the Australian A-League, Socceroos & the Aussie soccer scene.

Not many football experts gave Western Sydney Wanderers a chance of beating Asian Champions League holders Guangzhou Evergrande at Wanderland last week, especially after the Wanderers were knocked out of the inaugural FFA CUP by South Australian national premier league club Adelaide City. The result sent shockwaves through the football community as the A-League grand finalist was eliminated one nil.

Tony Popovic has purposely given a heavy training load to his players this pre-season knowing the importance of the Asian Champions League quarter final. Since their heroic comeback win against Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the round of 16, the Wanderers have had a turnover of 10 players and changes to the coaching staff.

Last Wednesday night saw 17,093 attend Parramatta Stadium, the majority hoping to see an upset. Not even a traffic jam could’ve kept the red and black bloc away as they received a football treat, a game that provided everything.

Tony Popovic embraced the challenge of taking on World Cup winning coach Marcelo Lippi. Popovic trusted his young back 4 of Golec, Hamill, Topor Stanley and Mullen. The youngsters came up against a forward trio consisting of Diamanti, Elkeson and new signing Alberto Gilardino. A forward line that would make even a European defense tremble.

Daniel Mullen’s injury in the 26th minute forced Popovic to introduce 16 year old Daniel Alessi, who more than held his own at right back. It was a typical Wanderers display that saw a hard working team beat the richest club in Asia one nil.

Left back Golec’s only foray forward in the first half saw him cut inside on his right foot, as his cross come shot went through a flurry of players and beat the stretching goal keeper. The Wanderers defense continued to be tested from distance as Diamanti always posed a threat. A fit again Tomi Juric started using his body against his weaker opponent, which forced him to be kicked behind play. The dirty play continued in the 2nd half as center back Zhang Linpeng was sent off after elbowing La Rocca, which sees Guangzhou’s defender miss next week’s decider.

The drama and antics continued towards the end of the game as Guangzhou continued to chase for an away goal. Things took a turn for the worst for the Asian giants as they were reduced to nine men as Gao Lin was unnecessarily sent off, as his leg was positioned towards Victor Saba’s face, which embarrassingly showed the new Wanderers recruit play acting. Saba’s playacting will not be tolerated during the A-League season and is seen as Un-Australian.

The Brasilian was signed as a replacement for fan favorite Shinji Ono and has some big shoes to fill. His 20 minute cameo performance certainly had glimpses of quality, but the former Brescia player certainly made headlines for the wrong reasons. His antics even made Marcelo Lippi lose control and run up to the referee during open play. The Asian Football Confederation will definitely hand out a long sideline ban for the Italian master-coach. Tony Popovic tactically played a back 4 with two holding midfielders which pleased the coach, “in the end we restricted them to only a few chances”.

The Wanderers should expect an even tougher match in China this Wednesday as 60 thousand await their arrival. Even without Lippi in the technical area, the wanderers will experience a partisan atmosphere with millions watching throughout China. Popovic will have an even tougher job on his hands, as the young backline will need to produce another outstanding performance.

A semi-final appearance is the prize for the wanderers, an achievement that will be difficult to topple as Asia continues to use its economic power through the football industry. Progression to the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League could even be harmful to the wanderers as Crystal Palace rumors will continue to circulate for their wanted manager. By keeping Tony Popovic at Wanderland, may just prove to be their best signing yet. 

Perry TSANGAS

Nationality:
Australia
College:
Northern Melbourne Institute of Tafe
Club Domestic:
Melbourne Victory FC
Club Foreign:
PAS Giannina
Perry hopes he can contribute to the growth of Australian football and play the best ambassadorial role for the sport. Currently a coach of Victoria in 7-a-side football for players disabilities.
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