Round Four Preview: Western Sydney Wanderers vs Brisbane Roar (Wednesday 3rd December, Pirtek Stadium)

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If, immediately after last years’ grand final, anyone had suggested that this match would be going ahead with both teams at the foot of the current A-League ladder, in a mid-week match after the Wanderers had won the AFC Champions’ League and were readying for the FIFA Club World Championship, and that the Roar would have sacked Mike Mulvey in the week or so beforehand, they would’ve been labelled as insane. Yet here we are and the Wanderers are last, the Roar eighth, Mulvey is indeed gone, the home team is readying for a possible match in Morocco against Real Madrid and Broich is undergoing surgery for an ankle injury. In other words it is a rather bizarre situation that both clubs are in, and whoever can best emerge out of the chaotic circumstances should climb back up into the top six.

For the visitors the one major bright spot in their situation is that Henriques is scoring goals. Aside from that their form, their internal issues post-Mulvey’s sacking, the gaps in their roster due to Berisha and Franjic moving on, the injuries to Broich and Theo all indicates they are on a downward path. Their effort against Perth last round was barely satisfactory, and was saved near the death by the Brazilian striker. There is potential for Adam Sarota to play however his match fitness will be almost zero. New Roar coach Frans Thijssen has also been a very subdued addition to the visitors, and it is hard to see him knowing exactly how to deal with all the problems Brisbane face on and off the park.

As for the Wanderers, they must be very confident of picking up all three points tonight. There is every chance that recently crowned AFC coach of the Year Tony Popovic will wave his rotation wand again, and whilst Saba didn;t start against Sydney FC last weekend he may well begin the game against the Roar. Labinot Haliti might figure instead of Rukavytsya, and it will be interesting to see if Adeleke starts. The away game to Adelaide this weekend and the Club World Championship will be on Popa’s mind, and he may give some of his usual starters a break. If so the challenge will be particularly in the midfield, where Poljak, possibly Bridge, Saba and La Rocca will need to own that space. Up front Tomi Juric will be the main man for goals, however he will need someone like Castelen or another team mate to help out more. Last match against Sydney FC there were issues with the Wanderers’ willingness to shoot, as well as their organisation in the box, and this needs to improve.No doubt the RBB will again be driving their club on with all the home support they can.

Final Verdict: The Wanderers should win, but the Roar will be very keen to stop them. My Prediction: 2-0 Western Sydney Wanderers

2014/2015 Round Five Preview: November 7th – 9th

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Wellington Phoenix vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Westpac Stadium, Friday 7th November)

With all the excitement of the Wanderers’ ACL win settling down, the hard yards need to be faced for the visitors as they try and rise from the foot of the current A-League ladder. Facing them is a quietly confident and talented Wellington, who have in Burns, McGlinchey and Brockie a front three that could cause problems for a potentially tired Wanderers. The Wanderers will also be at a disadvantage with the absence of Vitor Saba due to a one match suspension, and injury to Brendon Santalab. Having said that there is still quality in the visitors’ squad, both with players who may be doubling up on their efforts in Saudi Arabia from last weekend, such as Topor-Stanley, Hamill, Bridge, Haliti, La Rocca and Poljak, plus the majestic Ante Covic. What is exciting is the prospect of new signings Nikita Rukavytsya and Seyi Adeleke hopefully make their debut in the red and black in an A-League game.

For the home team they will have every reason to believe they can win, thanks to their solid early season form. They have a disadvantage in that they played only four days ago, and their stats are not that flash against the Wanderers at home. Their defence may be facing a test from Rukavytsya, Bridge, Juric, Haliti and perhaps Sotirio. Players such as Muscat and Doyle will be key to denying what may be a slightly weary but potent Wanderers attack.

Final Verdict: The exigencies of travel may impact on both teams however don;t be surprised to see the Wanderers perform well even with the last few days experiences under their belts. Wellington will be keen to do well however even with some of their arguably bench players involved the Wanderers look the goods. My Prediction: 0-2 Western Sydney Wanderers

Adelaide United Vs Sydney FC (Coopers Stadium, Friday 7th November)

A clash between two of the three unbeaten teams in this season so far looks to be a cracker, thanks also to the quality and style of Gombau’s Reds having to face an irrepressible and well-motivated Sydney FC under Graham Arnold. Both teams should be near peak fitness for the majority of their stars, and whilst the home advantage and heat may well tell in favour of Adelaide, this current Sydney FC squad believes it can win away from home. Up front the visitors have an advantage even without Shane Smeltz, or the possibility of Alex Brosque not being fit. Gamiero, Janko and Antonis are all quality players with goals these season. The Reds won’t be shy of scoring either, thanks to Bruce Djite and Cirio. Defensively they are also evenly matched, with Ognenovski and Petkovic being matched by Elrich and Malik. Perhaps the biggest disparity in quality is goalkeeping, where Adelaide’s Galekovic being superior to Sydney Janjetovic.

Final Verdict: These two sides are finely balanced and in all honesty I can’t split them on paper. It will be one of those games where perhaps a mistake will divide the two, and even in that context neither the Reds nor Sydney FC look likely to commit egregious errors. My Prediction: 2-2 Draw

Newcastle Jets vs Melbourne Victory (Hunter Stadium, Saturday 8th November)

The chaff is already starting to separate from the wheat this season, and when it comes to last year’s stubble well the jets are certainly in that category right now. They haven’t been that bad, but with three loses and one draw after a month of being on the road, coming home to a newly refurbished Hunter Stadium will be at least welcome from a travel perspective. The lack of an imposing goal scorer up front has been an obvious problem for Phil Stubbins’ charges, and his experienced and creative players such as Flores and Carney have not really imposed their will on the pitch.

The Victory on the other hand are part of the triumvirate of unbeaten clubs this season so they will be coming into this match as red hot favourites. Even though they had to play a match on Monday against the Phoenix, and at the time were missing several key players, they are coming into this game brimming with talent. Berisha, Barbarouses, Finkler, Thompson, Ben Khalfallah and Pain are a great set of attacking players, and Valeri and Milligan are a solid spine.

Final Verdict: There is no way to get away from the expectation that the Victory will be a moral to win, and the Jets could yet again be facing a big loss. My Prediction: 0-3 Melbourne Victory

Brisbane Roar vs Melbourne City (Suncorp Stadium, 8th November)

The mighty have fallen from last season, and right now Mike Mulvey’s squad need to get their act together and win or they could become roadkill before the end of the year. The problems with internal issues (as shown in the departure of Liam Miller), the gaps in their line-up exposed through the departures of Berisha and Franjic and the injuries to Sarota and Theo, and the fact that other clubs have caught up with the Roar has left them very exposed to being stuck in the lower part of the A-league season.

Having said that Melbourne City are coming into this match with a less than stellar return on their first four games of the 2014/15 season which is surprising when one considers who they have on their books, including David Villa. Of course the Spanish striker has now left Van t’Schipp’s squad and with Josh ‘Jesus’ Kennedy not due to start with city until January the huge question must be who can score goals for the visitors. They have problems with a core of underperformers who were part of the Heart effort last season, and even their better players (Mooy and Duff) have only been good in patches.

Final Verdict: A must win for both clubs but neither really inspires expectations of victory. Playing at home with arguably still the best player in the A-League (i.e. Thomas Broich) and with Henriques stumping up for his 100th a-League match, the roar may have a slight advantage. My prediction: 2-0 Brisbane Roar

Central Coast Mariners vs Perth Glory (Gosford Stadium, 9th November)

The Mariners are at home and whilst they will be comforted by their return to Gosford , however they are hardly the same imposing team they were last season, or indeed in most of those played since the A-League’s inception. They have not scored a goal off their own boot since the first match of the season, and the inability of them to convert opportunities in their match against Sydney FC last week must be a worry for Phil Moss. There are also rumours of problems in the Mariners’ club house circulating around Eddy Bosnar.

Perth are back on a winning track thanks to their 2-1 win over the Jets, and they must be confident of taking the points away from home, which in itself will be a rare achievement. Key players Andy Keogh, Youssouf Herrsi and Jamie Maclaren will be a sizable challenge for the Mariners. It has to be said that Kenny Lowe has welded together a very decent squad that so far has resisted some of the angst and problems previous seasons’ Glory teams have experienced. The talent of older players such as Thwaite and Nicholls is balanced nicely with Cameron Edwards and Danny de Silva.

Final Verdict: The Mariners are not on the ropes yet but they are a bit wonky. If Perth can muzzle Mitchell duke and get through a stolid defence then they may just notch a rare win in Gosford. My Prediction: 1-1 Draw

 

How To Beat Al Hilal (Or a Keyboard Warrior’s Manifesto for Popa)

Tomorrow morning in the wee small hours thousands of devoted Western Sydney Wanderers will aggregate together in Parramatta, or perhaps at Club Marconi in Bossley Park, or at Blacktown Workers, or even just stumble out of bed and put the TV onto FoxSports, and every one will have that one hope; bring home the Champions’ League trophy. No doubt many of them, plus non-Wanderer viewers, will have ideas as to how Popovic’s squad can achieve what so many thought was impossible and create a new glorious page in football’s history down under. So, to fulfill that obligation of being a rabid armchair expert, here are my thoughts on how to beat Al Hilal.

1. Self-Belief

If there is one match winning quality that had been demonstrated time and time again by the Wanderers, not just in the 2014 AFC Champions’ League, it has been a well adjusted sense of self-belief. I’m not talking the mind games and braggart behaviour coming through from the likes of Al Hilal’s coach Laurentiu Reghecampf who, when at a pre-match press conference said “No, I promise you we won’t lose tomorrow. I’m going to see to that and I hope that [Western] Sydney will stay a small team.” (source). It’s the kind of confidence and self-belief that club leaders such as captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley (“It’s a massive, massive game, we’re under no illusions about that but we’re really excited to be 90 minutes away from being champions.”) and coach Tony Popovic have kept talking about:

“They’re here because they deserve to be here,” he said of his men.”They’re motivated enough, they’re not here for a holiday, they’re here to win the final.” (source)

Tony Popovic: mastermind of the ascent of the Western Sydney Wanderers

Perhaps the mentality that is most indicative of where the Wanderers are and hopefully need to be at when it comes to beating Al Hilal is that spoken of by heroic goalkeeper Ante Covic:

“There’s going to be 65-odd thousand Hilal supporters and they’re going to make it as intimidating as possible and try and wear us down in that aspect,” said Covic, who was impressive in the 1-0 first leg win in Sydney. “But we’re not going to fall under that kind of pressure. We know that they’re going to be confident, they’re playing at home and they’re rubbing it in our faces how daunting it’s going to be in front of their fans and how we’ve seen nothing yet. We’re not going to fall for those traps. We just know that we’re going to be in for a good, hard, solid game against a quality opposition.” (source)

Make no mistake; the players, coaching staff and administrators have known for sometime that this entire AFC Champions’ League campaign has been one of extraordinary challenge, but also one that they deserve to be part of and where their victories have been well won. There has been none of the arrogance and dare I say sense of entitlement that has oozed from clubs that have boasted about their chances before being beaten by the Wanderers (hello Guangzhou Evergrande), nor as there been a self-pity or contemplation of the imbalance between club resources. Instead Popovic and the rest of the squad have turned up to every match with the innate self-belief that comes not from ego, but from achievement on the pitch and solidarity within all involved in the mission to hand.

2. Acknowledge but don’t fear the Al Hilal’s Home Turf

There has been talk again and again and again from the fans of Al Hilal, the media, the coach, the owners…everyone involved with the Saudi powerhouse, about the imposing quantity and quality of support that last week’s losers will bring on board when at home in Riyadh this week. I don’t think anyone is under any illusion that these kinds of statements are just nervous dog whistles; Al Hilal will have a packed King Fahd Stadium awaiting the Wanderers and almost 99.9% of the 65,000 spectators will be backing the home team. Then there is the much talked about heat, the potential for any shenanigans from the locals, and the distance involved in traveling to Riyadh for the Wanderers.

However recent Wanderers’ experiences have shown that they are capable of dealing with similar circumstances and coming through with flying colours. The away leg to Guangzhou Evergrande was without doubt the hardest faced by any Australian football team since the away leg  of the World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay played by the Socceroos in Montevideo in 2001. In fact, whilst there was some nastiness involving the Socceroos when they arrived in Montevideo in 2001 the level of bastardry and the difficulty of the task at hand for the Wanderers when they went to Guangzhou was many times worse. From phone calls in the middle of the night through to staged bus accidents, and of course the huge disparity in terms of resources and fans available for the home side against the Wanderers, that Guangzhou Evergrande semi was exactly what was needed to give the Australian hope for Champions’ League glory an insight into away intimidation. And the players themselves know this:

“I always go back to that game against Guangzhou Evergrande and about how that was fantastic preparation for this,” he said. “We went through tough times on that trip. Mentally that’s not easy to take. We came through strong… and we can take that experience into this game.” (Brendon Santalab)

So having been through an arguably less pleasant experience than the one they are currently enduring, plus with a solid pre-season 10 day training camp run in Dubai, it can be confidently said that there are no fears within the squad when it comes to running out against the vociferous and fierce opposition of Al Hilal’s home support in a very warm Riyadh, thousands of kilometres away from Wanderland. This group of players, staff and even the fourteen Wanderers fans traveling to watch the final leg are not going to buckle easily where others wouldn’t even be willing or able to go.

3. Don’t Chase The Game Unless Necessary

The Wanderers have got results away from home in the AFC Champions’ League through replicating the same dogged and highly structured defence that has won them games at home not just in this tournament, but also in the A-League. Last week’s first leg was a typical example of what the Wanderers do so well, insofar as they usually deny the opposition clear chances on goal from open play and dead ball situations alike and thus keeping a clean sheet, Whilst they are known to concede they usually can score to balance the result. For example, with their 3-1 loss to Hiroshima Sanfrecce, their 2-1 loss to Guangzhou Evergrande and their 0-0 draw to FC Seoul the Wanderers have either built upon or set the stage for the needed result from back home (such as the respective 2-0, 1-0 and 2-0 wins in order against the same teams at Wanderland), and it is this ability to deter the opposition’s attack from overwhelming the Wanderers with goals that will be needed again for this final match against Al Hilal.

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The impregnanble defence of Ante Covic in front of the Wanderers goal against Al Hilal

Defensively the Wanderers are extremely good, and of course so much of this is built upon the two key players Nikolai Topor Stanley and Ante Covic. Having said that Mullen, Golec and Hamill have each made their presence felt, and in front of them Iaccopo La Rocca and recently Matteo Poljak have also helped keep down the oppositions’ chances for goals through the midfield. There is the possibility that Matthew Spiranovic may return for some game time however if last week’s match is any guide it won’t be too early and it may well be in a central midfielder’s role. However it will be Topor Stanley and Covic who will need to be at their best, and I would suggest they would do well to adjust slightly the emphasis on ball clearances from the back third of the field. The ‘if in doubt hoof it out’ system did the job at Wanderland however I would like to think that in Riyadh there will be more controlled disposal of dangerous balls.

As for the contrary aspect of attack, there is no need (unless they go down 2 early goals) for the Wanderers to chase the game. If they can stay compact and ride out the inevitable pressure from Al Hial they can hopefully do again what was achieved last week via Tomi Juric’s goal. Counter-punches are a frequent route for Wanderers success and with hopefully Labinot Haliti, Brendan Santalab and Tomi Juric all possible goal raiders there is every reason to believe that at least one goal can come to the red and black. If that happens then the task for Al Hilal becomes even more onerous.

4. Harness Vitor’s Frustration and Use It Intelligently

He has been portrayed as a genius and as a villain and yet he only has two full starst with the Wanderers in any competitive match so far. Vitor Saba has had a sizable impact off the bench thanks to his work during the 1-0 win over Guangzhou, and whilst he had only a few minutes on the pitch at Wanderland against Al Hilal last Saturday his class was obvious. Now there are stories like this coming out of the Wanderers’ camp:

Vitor Saba is unhappy starting games from the bench but is prepared to sacrifice minutes on the field if it means Western Sydney Wanderers return to Australia with the Asian Champions League trophy.

The Brazilian playmaker is not satisfied with a role as a substitute, having moved to Australia with the hope of playing regular football. Saba has started just one game in the Asian Champions League campaign and watched the bulk of the first leg of the final against Al-Hilal from the bench before entering as an 83rd-minute substitute.

He is eager to establish himself as a first-team player but admits it is difficult to argue against the selection policy due to the team’s performance and results in Asia. In the best interests of the team, Saba is prepared to bide his time and take his chances when they arrive.

“Of course I am not satisfied, but I respect his [coach Tony Popovic’s] decision because we are winning. I think every time that I am coming from the bench, I am coming for a purpose and my purpose is to help the team, and I think I am doing a good job. But, if you ask me if I want to sit on the bench? No, I do not want to. But now I have to think about what is most important and that’s the trophy … If I have to come five minutes, or 10 or 45, I have to be humble, stay on the bench and then come and do my best.”  (source)

Arguably somewhat volatile, I would suggest that Popa can and should keep Saba on the bench and then bring him into the match sometime in the second half to either give a tired Al Hilal more concerns in the midfield, plus relieve pressure on the Wanderers players in a similar role or out the back. Additionally, as a true no.10 he can act as a distributor for the likes of Juric, Santalab, Haliti or maybe even Mark Bridge. His eagerness to do well and his freshness, combined with the obvious talent his possesses will give Al Hilal some major food for thought.

Vitor Saba; the Wanderers midfielder who makes everyone pay attention

5. Keep The Ball Longer

One of the less impressive aspects of the Wanderers’ play in recent weeks has been their inability to retain the ball for long stretches and retain possession. In the match against Al Hilal last Saturday that issue reared its ugly head again and whilst possession for its own sake is not a match winner, denying the opposition a chance to use the ball to score goals is. In what could be very warm conditions having to chase turnovers could quickly erode the Wanderers’ fitness, vaunted as it is, and so making sure that al Hilal are not given any chance to intercept or steal loose balls particularly in the Wanderers’ half is of paramount concern.

6. When does Tomi Come On?

With injury worries over both Brendon Santalab (shoulder dislocation) and Tomi Juric (groin) the question is not will one be subbed off for the other, but when. Assuming that Santalab is able to start (and he himself has very confidence he can at least play) then I would think he would be the better option at the beginning, with Tomi to come on after him. I know that there have been several media pundits and experts who have said that Tomi needs to start, however I don’t believe he will be most effective from the get go right now. If he remains benched until at least the first half ends, or in a worse case scenario the Wanderers ship two goals without answer, then Popovic has the luxury of bringing him on with fresh legs and the ability to hopefully repeat his intimidating runs from last week. It may well be in fact that Juric will not be able to or need to score, and I would not be surprised if someone like Bridge or Haliti earns that distinctive honour. Popovic has a gun striker he can use when he believes he will have the most impact, and those who are probably going to line up won’t be that much less dangerous.

Tomi Juric: Wanderers striker and the man who gives Al Hilal nightmares

7. Shannon Cole: Mr Ubiquitous

An unsung hero of the Wanderers, Shannon Cole has been one of the best performers for the Wanderers in the Champions’ League tournament, and I expect him to start yet again as a right attacking midfielder. He was not embarrassed by his opposition last week, and in previous games has scored goals when needed. Whilst he may find himself at some stage of the game is either subbed for Spiranovic or Saba, I am certain he will be the Wanderers own ‘mini Phillip Lahm’. If defensive support is needed he should also be able to shore up his flank as well.

Shannon Cole: unsung hero for the Wanderers in ACL 2014

8. Watch for a change in style and new players from Al Hilal

Last week Al Hilal were nominally playing a style of match they were arguably unsuited to, looking to maximise speed, width and attack instead of their more traditional possession based game. Additionally their usual skipper, striker Yasser Al Qahtani is back after a suspension which meant he missed the first leg of the final in Wanderland. Thus Tony Popovic and the Wanderers on the pitch will need to be aware of actual and potential changes to the line up and style they will confront in the upcoming away leg. It will be interesting to see if Reghecampf tries to vary things a bit, as what was put on the field last Saturday night wasn’t bad. Either way there are some unknowns yet to be verified to come out of Al Hilal.

There are lots of other aspects of the match that bear some degree of examination when trying to work out how the Wanderers can win tonight. Discipline, interaction with the referee and other officials, the potential influence of one of the Wanderers’ squaddies (e.g. Jason Trifiro) or a younger player (Daniel Alessi perhaps, or Kwabena Appiah). The burden of two losses in A-League grand finals must be acknowledged and the mental or psychological ability of the players to get past those results will also go some way in determining if they can snatch the trophy in Riyadh. Finally, you are only as good as your opposition allows you to be, and in the case of al Hilal they have shown both a susceptibility of not being able to finish against the Wanderers, and letting the A-League team get one over them. The result is too hard to pick, but my heart is where it should be;

Come on you Wanderers!

Wandering Into Asia: The AFC Champions’ League Saga Out West

This evening the Wanderers play Saudi and AFC powerhouse Al-Hilal FC in the first league of the finals of the 2014 AFC Champions’ League, and I don’t consider it to be an exaggeration for me to call it the biggest club football match played in football in this country since at least the beginning of the A-League, if not since the sport actually kicked off here. Please understand I mean this as no disrespect to other clubs who have made forays either in continental or international tournaments, such as Adealide’s run to the same stage of the 2008 championship and their subsequent travel to the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup. Nor is this a sleight on the South Melbourne Hellas team that went to the 2000 edition of the CWC. Both those efforts deserve respect and the trailblazing effort through such clubs need to be remembered.

However the reason that I consider tonight’s match to be so significant is for the first time in this country we are seeing an unfolding story of international club football create a dialogue and a public consciousness about the sport and the Wanderers that has never been matched before. For all the wonder and excellence that led to the experiences of the Reds and Hellas and preceding years they were dare I say under the shadow of either a stumbling and fumbling football administration, connected with all the old prejudices and problems of ‘old Soccer’, whilst the latter was at a time when the A-League and football in general was still emerging from the periphery. Hellas did very well to get to the 2000 CWC however this was in the days of Soccer Australia and the NSL, where a significant but still small band of welded on fans and participants had to battle for every achievement, every dollar, every skerrick of public recognition. Unfortunately as the old world of football not long thereafter came crumbling down, as revealed and hastened through the Crawford Report, the basic structures of the sport in those days meant that any club (let alone Hellas) could never really propagate football’s identity, extending the lustre of the CWC participation beyond the club’s own record books. As for Adelaide, as much as they did achieve wonders in 2008 they were doing so in a smaller, less football conscious market domestically (both in terms of their home city and Australia as a whole), during a period when the A-League was still in its infancy (and soon lost much of its starting impetus thanks to the elusive hunt by the FFA for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting rights), and when truth be told the public in general and the local clubs specifically failed to really recognise or understand the AFC Champions League’s importance.

What has been truly exciting and ground-breaking is that the Wanderers have made it to this stage of the AFC Champions’ League in conjunction with the outstanding growth of popularity for the club and the sport in Australia, joined with a wider and more nuanced appreciation of what this means for the club, the west of Sydney, the sport and even the country as reflected in both mainstream and peripheral media. Only last week a derby was played between Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers in front of over 41,000 fans which was the largest crowd for any regular season game for any football code at Allianz Stadium since it opened. The Wanderers have over 18,000 members who each in one way or another, to differing degrees of appreciation, been engaged with a competition that has struggled for a hold on the Australian sports-loving populace. There have been stories such as this from the local media (Seb Hassett SMH article) and mainstream TV news media have been focusing on the Wanderers in ways not usually seen before:

Then there has been the attention focused on this match from outside the Wanderers’ supporter base or mainstream media. Ranging from an explosion of Saudi-based social media followers (where Al Hilal’s rival supporters have attached themselves to the Wanderers), through the events of previous qualifiers (such as the controversial events surrounding the games played between the Wanderers and Marcello Lippi’s Guangzhou Evergrande), and even with the arguments over where the first leg match should have been played (with many latecomers and neutrals upset that the club and core fan base have preferred to play at Wanderland). These kinds of events, of stories are more often the framework or issues which feature in non-football codes in this country, or are the norm when people look at the UEFA Champions League or the Copa Libertadores. There has been disquiet over the schedule clash between the Wanderers versus Al Hilal fxiture against the Melbourne derby in the A-League. There has even been pseudo-sociological assessments of the Wanderers and their achievements from fans of opposition clubs .

Now I’m coming at this with some degree of bias, and I’ve not got the academic credentials to back all these assertions up with nuanced research. However as someone who has been following the sport of football in Australia for well nigh on forty years, I can remember no other moment in the history of club football that has placed the sport on such a huge pedestal. I know there have been exhibition matches such as those played between Victory and Liverpool, and I have already referred to Adelaide FC and South Melbourne Hellas. However there is a fundamental groundswell shift in this saga of the Wanderers in their hunt for AFC Champions’ League glory that has a broader appeal, a more significant potential impact. It’s partly as a result of the matches themselves and the manner in which they were won or lost (e.g. the first match against Ulsan Hyundai with flares and a 1-3 drubbing, the 2-0 win over Hiroshima Sanfrecce with its attendant farewell to several key foundation Wanderers players after their loss to Brisbane in the 2013/14 A-League Grand Final, the 1-2 loss to Guangzhou Evergrande that saw the Wanderers progress to the semis on away goals). There is also the manner in which several of the club’s “squaddies” have performed, like Shannon Cole, Labinot Haliti and Jason Trifiro. Dare I say it the blue-collar determination to win against bigger, more famous, wealthier Asian clubs ties in with the Australian mythos of the battler, the underdog, the working man hero. Taking on the best of the overseas world and beating them is very much part of the Australian ego, and the Wanderers tilt at AFC Champions League glory is very much in harmony with this.

Now I am about to leave for the game and I know that this will not be an easy task for the Wanderers. In fcat this will be the stiffest challenge ever faced by the club, beyond those previous matches played both in the A-League or against other Asian clubs. Expectations are high as are the demands. However the significance of what has transpired so far and the possibilities of what lies ahead make tonight’s match one of those defining moments not just in the club’s history, but I would argue for the sport of of football in Australia as a whole, and perhaps even for the folk of this area, this city, this country.

B-League & Labinot

Must say I had a big giggle at this video from Sam and Jules a.k.a. The B-League (and some classy cameos from Labinot Haliti and Nikolai Topor-Stanley):

If the resident comedy duo on FoxSports Sunday Shoot-Out can keep this standard up during the remainder of the season then they will be challenging Santo, Sam and Ed for the title of funniest football presenters on Australian TV (with Thursday FC still in the sheds).