“We are the biggest in Asia,” says Wanderers Coach Popovic

Tuesday, 4 November 2014 00:04 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters: The Western Sydney Wanderers hailed themselves Asia’s biggest club after displaying trademark Australian grit to win the AFC Champions League on Saturday, three years after their formation. The fledgling outfit beat Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, Asia’s celebrated ‘club of the 20th century’, 1-0 on aggregate after earning a goalless draw in the face of an attacking onslaught and a hostile crowd at the King Fahd International Stadium.                             The first Australian winners, who began the tournament as major underdogs, rode their luck in the home first leg last week before a Tomi Juric goal secured a narrow lead to take to Riyadh. The Saudis, though, were confident of overturning the deficit at home with 65,000 fans cheering them on. “We were called a small club yesterday. Today we are the biggest in Asia,” Coach Tony Popovic told reporters after the historic win. “It is still a little surreal for me as a coach. I am sure it will hit home in the next few days when we reflect. I am just proud for these players and our club. The first time in the competition, to win it, I think in the future we will really understand how special this run has been,” added Popovic. “We don’t have the resources or the funds that some of these other teams have but we have something that money can’t buy, the desire to win, the resilience to play for each other and do anything we can to win. No money can buy that.” Goalkeeper Ante Covic was named man of the match after a string of superb stops but Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura proved a bigger frustration for the home fans. Nishimura, lambasted for giving Brazil a soft penalty in the opening World Cup match against Croatia in June, turned down two strong appeals for an Al Hilal spot kick. Popovic said he spoke to the referee after his players, and Covic in particular, were repeatedly targeted by fans shining lasers in their eyes. “It’s just a pain in the backside really,” the former Australia defender said. “Spoke to the ref at half time but what do you do? In the end we’re the ones smiling. I don’t really care anymore. We’re the champions of Asia.” Just over two years ago the Wanderers only had three members of staff as they cobbled together an expansion team after the demise of Gold Coast United. Now, though, they will be preparing to take on Cruz Azul of Mexico at the Club World Cup next month with 10-times European champions Real Madrid awaiting them if they win.