Western Sydney Wanderers FC have held on to book their spot in the AFC Champions League semi-finals despite a 2-1 loss to Guangzhou Evergrande in a dramatic quarter-final second leg on Wednesday night.
Holding a slender 1-0 lead after last week’s first leg, the Wanderers did just enough to advance, holding off an Evergrande avalanche to make the last four on the away goals rule.
Tomi Juric scored a crucial away goal for the Wanderers from the penalty spot to give them a shock lead 13 minutes after the break but goal-keeper Ante Covic was the hero.
The experienced gloveman saved a first-half penalty from Elkeson and repelled almost everything the star-studded Guangzhou attack threw at him.
Alessandro Diamanti’s strike just after the hour mark gave the home side faint hope of a fight-back before Elkeson set-up a grandstand finish with a goal in stoppage time.
But the visitors weren’t to be denied a famous result against the defending champions to set up a semi-final clash with Korean giants FC Seoul.
The Wanderers were forced to soak up a lot of early pressure without any serious threat on Covic’s goal.
It took almost half an hour for the first real chance of the match, with Guangzhou inches away from taking the lead through former Italian international Alberto Gilardino.
Sun Xiang swung in a teasing cross from the left with Gilardino getting in front of his marker and producing a flicked volley which scraped the crossbar as it went over.
The home side then won a penalty just four minutes later when Iacopo La Rocca clumsily brought down Elkeson but the Brazilian couldn’t convert from the spot.
Elkeson blasted his attempt down the middle, with Covic showing all his experience to stay big and parry it away in a huge let-off for the Wanderers.
Spurred on by a huge home crowd, Guangzhou continued to probe but were denied time and again by some desperate Wanderers defending.
Tony Popovic’s side were holding on but a rare foray forward 13 minutes after the break saw them grab the vital away goal.
Mark Bridge found himself one-one with Zeng Cheng and despite getting a shot in was brought down by the keeper for a penalty, which was coolly converted by Juric to silence the home fans.
It meant Guangzhou needed to score three times to advance and they managed to get one back just two minutes later.
It was the Italians who combined with Gilardino nodding down for Diamanti to blast it under Covic with a powerful strike from just inside the box.
It sparked a frantic finale as the home side laid siege to the Wanderers goal.
Gilardino, Elkeson and Dong Xuesheng all missed glorious chances in the latter stages before the Brazilian pulled another one back in stoppage time.
But the Wanderers held on to become just the second Australian club after Adelaide United in 2008 to make the ACL semi-finals on what was a momentous night for the club.
Guangzhou Evergrande 2 (Diamanti 61, Elkeson 90+2)
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Juric 59)