Western Sydney Wanderers FC hero Ante Covic says Al Hilal’s arrogance and “small team” jibes drove his side to their historic AFC Champions League success.
The Wanderers are still in party mode after completing their rise to Asia’s best club side on Sunday morning (AEDST) with a 1-0 aggregate win over Al Hilal after a 0-0 draw in Riyadh.
Covic was the star for Tony Popovic’s side pulling off a string of fine saves, including one inside the last six minutes from Yasser Al-Qahtani some are calling the best ever by an Aussie ‘keeper.
Reflecting on the achievement, Covic admits he knew after that save the Wanderers would win and revealed the Saudi side’s slurs in the build-up to the match only strengthened his side’s resolve.
Al Hilal coach Laurentiu Reghecampf labelled the Wanderers a “small” club and promised his fans they would definitely win the title.
“It’s not the first time in the Champions League people have come out and underestimated us and say ‘we don’t deserve to be there,” Covic told Fox Sports.
“If you put fuel to the fire we’ll go running with it. Those types of comments are just going to drive us on.
“That was arrogance on their behalf. They showed a lot of arrogance in that first game thinking they deserved to just walk through this final and that was just a little more inspiration to us.
“They openly said they were going to score two or three and I guess they’re at home now wondering what the hell went wrong. We’re the ones with the trophy and they’re the ones that are bitter and wondering how the hell this Western Sydney team did what they did.”
Covic said the Wanderers success proves that hard work and spirit can overcome the huge amounts of money some of the big clubs in Asia spend chasing ACL success.
But the veteran shot-stopper – named play of the entire ACL tournament for his sublime performances – admitted his side also needed a big slice of luck to triumph.
The home side felt they were denied at least two – and probably three – clear-cut penalties by Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura.
“We probably got away with a couple,” Covic admitted with a smile.
“Sometimes you ride your luck. We got that win in the first leg and were in the driving seat and sometimes you make your own luck and destiny falls into your hands.
“You can’t take away from the solid performance. At the end of the day in free play they only really had a couple of chances but we snuffed out everything.
“I’m proud of the boys. Those sorts of incidents happen in football.”