Western Sydney Wanderers FC coach Tony Popovic believes playing away to Guangzhou Evergrande in the ACL has given his side a vital edge ahead of this weekend’s ACL second leg final with Saudi side Al-Hilal.
Wanderers faced the Chinese super-club in August and triumphed over two legs despite a hostile crowd and dirty tricks off the pitch in China.
That’s exactly why the coach says it was a perfect preparation for this weekend’s ACL final second leg in Riyadh.
Around 65,000 fans will pack the King Fahd Stadium to make for an intimidating atmosphere as "The Blue Wave" aim to overturn a 1-0 first leg deficit.
“The Guangzhou experience helped us a lot,” Popovic told media at Sydney airport.
“We played in conditions that were a lot tougher than this [in Riyadh]. It’ll be hot there but it won’t be humid.
"So I believe the players will be more accustomed to that.”
The Wanderers also spent 10 days in a high-intensity training camp in Dubai last month.
Perhaps Popovic had an eye on the side making the final even then.
“Every little bit helps and I’m sure with the two experiences we’ve had in Guangzhou and Dubai you’d expect them to go there [to Riyadh] with confidence and handle the conditions.”
Popovic conceded the Wanderers may not have been the best side in Saturday’s first leg 1-0 win at Wanderland.
“They played very well. We didn’t and we won. And that’s the key to us. We can do a lot better in possession.
“If we do that I believe we give ourselves a great chance of winning this Cup.”
He also reflected on the 13-game ACL campaign with pride, including the travel, conditions and playing during the off-season.
It has filled him with confidence that this group has the mental strength and guile to find a way to win. Again.
“We’ve got one big one to go. We want to win this final. And I’m confident the players can do the job,” he said.
But how will the group handle any dirty tricks in Saudi Arabia similar to Guangzhou with an orchestrated bus crash and disruptions at the team hotel?
Popovic laughed that one off.
“I don’t think anything could surprise us or scare us now," he said with a grin.
“If something like that happened again I think we’d just deal with it with a smile on our faces.”