Sports

Wanderers fairytale continues into Asian semis

Western Sydney Wanderers' players celebrate after winning their AFC Champions League quarter-final football match against Guangzhou Evergrande in Sydney, August 20, 2014. – Reuters pic, August 28, 2014.Western Sydney Wanderers' players celebrate after winning their AFC Champions League quarter-final football match against Guangzhou Evergrande in Sydney, August 20, 2014. – Reuters pic, August 28, 2014.Western Sydney Wanderers have achieved many remarkable feats in their first two years of existence but reaching the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League in their maiden campaign must rank as their greatest.

Tony Popovic's A-League outfit travelled to southern China on Wednesday with a slender 1-0 lead from a first leg and withstood a frenzied onslaught to go through on away goals after holding defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande to a 2-1 win.

Yes, the big-spending Chinese champions were without Gao Lin and Zhang Linpeng, who were both controversially sent off in the tempestuous climax to the first leg in Sydney last week.

And yes, Guangzhou's World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi was forced to puff on a cigar in the stands after being banned from the sidelines for invading the pitch to complain about those red cards.

But the expensive forward line Lippi has assembled – prolific Brazilian Elkeson along with Italy internationals Alberto Gilardino and Alessandro Diamanti – remained intact and form suggested they would roll over the Australians.

The Wanderers had had their sleep disrupted on Tuesday by constant door-knocking and phone-ringing at the team hotel and, midfielder Shannon Cole said, were involved in a car crash on their way to the ground, where they were welcomed by a shower of "hundreds" of bottles.

They kept their collective nerve, however, and, riding their luck at times, held off wave after wave of desperate Guangzhou attacks in front of a hostile crowd of 40,000 to secure a semi-final against South Korea's FC Seoul.

"I feel very good and proud," manager Popovic told the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) website.

"My team is very new to this competition as we started just six months ago. But they have done a great job by showing resilience and fighting spirit.

"This was a very tough game for us. We travelled a long way to be here and we were exhausted. But at last we overcame all of our difficulties and I am very proud."

Pride yes, but Popovic will never admit to surprise at anything the club has achieved since their inauspicious beginnings in 2012 as an expansion team cobbled together in the wake of the demise of Gold Coast United.

In their first two seasons in the A-League they reached the championship final and their achievement on Wednesday is all the more remarkable for the fact that they are still in pre-season awaiting the start of their third domestic season in October.

Their reward for overcoming Guangzhou is a meeting with the team Lippi's side beat in last year's final to become the first Chinese winners of the continent's most prestigious club competition.

They will travel to the South Korean capital on September 17 for the first leg with the return in front of their own famously passionate fans at Parramatta Stadium on Oct 1.

Having dramatically overhauled J-League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima with a 2-0 home win in the second leg of round of 16 tie, Wanderers will fancy their chances of overhauling all but the most catastrophic first-leg deficit.

A pragmatic coach like Popovic would never countenance looking that far ahead, however.

"I wasn't thinking about the next round even when the score was 1-1," he added.

"I was very nervous during the entire match especially when they kept pressing us. My heart was about to jump out." – Reuters, August 28, 2014.