2 Nov 2014

Western Sydney new Asian champions

10:23 am on 2 November 2014

The Western Sydney Wanderers have become the first A-League side to win the Asian football's Champions League after a scoreless draw against Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal.

Western Sydney Wanderers player Matthew Spiranovic celebrates. 2014.

Western Sydney Wanderers player Matthew Spiranovic celebrates. 2014. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Played in front of a capacity, boisterous crowd at King Fahd Stadium, Tony Popovic's side withstood a procession of chances to complete a fairytale ride to the top of Asian football.

In just their third season of football, the Wanderers lifted the trophy 1-0 on aggregate after Tomi Juric's goal earned them a home win at Parramatta in the first leg last weekend.

"To come such a long way in the short history of this club and win a title like this ... I'm so proud. Tonight is very special and it's not going to be forgotten," said Wanderers goalkeeper Ante Covic, who was named player of the tournament.

A delighted Popovic said the game was everything you'd expect from a final.

"It was difficult, they're a very good team, they had fantastic support," he said.

"But as I said yesterday we're an excellent team and we showed over two legs how good we are."

While Western Sydney deserve great credit for their defensive resilience, it was hard to make a case to wave away two penalty decisions either side of halftime.

When Antony Golec stretched and found Nawaf Al-Abid rather than the ball, it seemed the roaring crowd would have their penalty.

But the decision didn't come, incensing Al-Hilal boss Laurentiu Reghecampf.

Japanese referee Nishimura Yuichi again kept his whistle from his lips on the hour when Covic clearly slid in on Salman Al Faraj.

The result felt like a robbery, with Covic and his defensive four standing tall to repel chance after chance.

The match quickly settled into a predictable pattern of Al-Hilal possession and territory.

By design or otherwise, the Wanderers found themselves without and behind the ball, but they were tightly organised and able to prevent Al-Hilal from finding dangerous outlets.

Al-Hilal's best first half opportunities came from free kicks and through sheer weight of numbers after the break.

When Al-Hilal's forwards, led by Brazilian Thiago Neves, did have opportunities, too often they failed to test the 39-year-old gloveman.

That changed in the final quarter hour with Al-Hilal streaming forward but finding Covic in unbeatable form.

In a vintage display, Covic's best came with five minutes remaining, denying substitute Yasser Al Qahtani's thunderous drive from 10 metres with a stunning reflex save to turn it around the post.

That the Wanderers were able to grind out a result was made more impressive by the ferocious environment.

Lasers continually shone in Covic's eyes, the crowd becoming more restless as the match wore on.

But Western Sydney held out, prevailing where the only other A-League team to make the ACL final, Adelaide United, could not.

The result is especially sweet for Popovic's side, denied in two A-League grand finals on their first two attempts.

On the last whistle, both the winners and defeated slumped on the ground, drained of all energy.

That quickly gave way to a release of frustration, with rivals involved in late fisticuffs.

Reghecampf bemoaned what he called bad luck.

"We were the best in the two games," he said through a translator.

"It's very difficult... I feel very bad."

The Wanderers' prize is over US$2 million in prizemoney and a place at the FIFA World Club Cup next month.