The Socceroos' 2014 World Cup journey was dubbed the 'Road to Rio'. Now Western Sydney Wanderers FC are just one game away from the greatest achievement by an Australian club side. As they fly off tonight (Tuesday) we look back at the red and black's 'Road to Riyadh' and the ACL final second leg.
It’s been an epic journey for the Wanderers to get this far, starting way back in February and seeing them rack up thousands of air miles around Asia and knocking off some powerful clubs - many on the road too - through 13 difficult matches so far.
We take a look back at the Wanderers’ amazing ride on the 'Road to Riyadh'.
Results – Feb 26 v Ulsan Hyundai (lost 3-1 at home), March 12 v Guizhou Renhe (won 1-0 away), March 19 v Kawasaki Frontale (won 1-0 at home), April 1 v Kawasaki Frontale (lost 2-1 away), April 15 v Ulsan Hyundai (won 2-0 away), April 22 v Guizhou Renhe (won 5-0 at home)
The Wanderers were given an early indication of just how tough life in the ACL would be, beaten 3-1 at home on Matchday One by Ulsan Hyundai despite scoring inside the first minute
through Brendon Santalab. But it proved a minor hiccup as they won their next two matches by solitary goals to Mark Bridge and Labinot Haliti before conceding two goals in the last 15
minutes on Matchday Four to go down 2-1 to Kawasaki Frontale. It set-up a huge penultimate group stage clash against their opening day conquerors Ulsan in Korea. The Wanderers
produced their most complete performance of the competition to win 2-0 thanks to goals from Bridge and Santalab. A 5-0 drubbing of Guizhou Renhe in the last game saw the Wanderers top t
he group and advance to the knockout stage.
Round of Sixteen
Results - May 7 v Sanfrecce Hiroshima (lost 3-1 away), May 14 v Sanfrecce Hiroshima (won 2-0 at home) – Progressed on the away goals rule
The first leg saw the Wanderers have to travel away to Japan and play just a day after their heart-breaking Hyundai A-League grand final defeat to Brisbane Roar. After going behind 2-0 the Wanderers got a vital away goal through Tomi Juric’s second half penalty before conceding a third in stoppage time to give them plenty of work to do a week later at Parramatta Stadium.
Willed on by a raucous home crowd and needing a 2-0 win to progress, the Wanderers didn’t panic despite failing to score in the first half. But Shannon Cole’s brilliant strike 10 minutes after the break gave them hope and after a sustained period of pressure, Brendon Santalab got the vital second five minutes from time to keep their fairytale run alive.
Results - August 20 v Guangzhou Evergrande (won 1-0 at home), August 27 v Guangzhou Evergrande (lost 2-1 away) - Progressed on the away goals rule
After a three-month hiatus the Wanderers resumed in the last eight against the multi-millionaires and defending ACL champions from China.
Marcelo Lippi’s legion of big-money imports and Chinese internationals were hot favourites, especially as the Wanderers were still in pre-season. In a pulsating first leg the Wanderers more than matched their more highly-fancied opponents before grabbing a winner from an unlikely source, with defender Antony Golec’s cross-shot handing them a 1-0 win (though there was a hint Juric may've got a touch).
The Wanderers had to deal with a host of dirty tricks from the locals ahead of the return encounter a week later, which included prank phone calls in the middle of the night and having the team bus rammed by another vehicle on route to the stadium.
Ante Covic pulled off a sensational penalty save in the first half to keep their noses in front before Juric converted from the spot to give the visitors an unlikely away goal. Despite conceding twice in the last 30 minutes, the Wanderers held on to advance on away goals.
Results - September 17 v FC Seoul (drew 0-0 away), October 1 v FC Seoul (won 2-0 at home) – Won 2-0 on aggregate
After knocking out the champions it was last season’s beaten finalists next up for Popovic’s troops.
This time it was the away leg first and for the first time in the competition the Wanderers failed to score on their opposition’s home turf. It meant the Koreans could head to Parramatta in the knowledge that a score draw would be enough to send them through.
Mateo Poljak eased any nerves with an early goal – his first in the competition – before Cole booked the Wanderers spot in the decider with a brilliant second-half header.
Results - October 25 v Al Hilal (won 1-0 at home), November 1 (Nov 2 AEDT) v Al-Hilal
The Wanderers produced a superb defensive display to repel the Saudi giants, who dominated possession for long periods. The introduction of Tomi Juric 13 minutes into the second half
proved the turning point with the striker scoring just six minutes later to secure a crucial1-0 first leg win.
Will it be enough to secure the Wanderers the continental title? We’ll get the answer on Sunday morning in what should be an incredible match with fans across the nation and Asia tuning in.
Dare we say... "Go the Wanderers!"