The Western Sydney Wanderers travelled more than 100,000 kilometres to become the first Australian team to lift the Asian Champions League title last weekend.
The Wanderers lived up to their moniker during the ACL, clocking a total of 115,044 kilometres across Asia and the Middle East since the tournament began in February. In October and November alone, taking into account upcoming trips to Wellington and Perth, the odometer shows 48,332 kilometres – more than a third of the total.
It all started on February 26 when Western Sydney hosted Korean side Ulsan Hyundai, and got a rude awakening in the form of a 3-1 defeat. At the time, it might have been reasonable to think the nascent A-League franchise were out of their depth. But that all changed once the Wanderers travelled 7,470 kilometres to China, where Mark Bridge poked home their first ACL goal.
Another victory at home put them in a sweet position, but a narrow defeat to Japanese heavyweights Kawasaki Frontale on foreign turf had them on tenterhooks. The Western Sydney Wanderers bettered their place in Group H with a trip to Korea, adding another 7,020 kilometres to their frequent flyer points and racking up a 2-0 victory over Ulsan Hyundai. A loss to Japanese side Sanfrecce Hiroshima looked to possibly derail the Wanderers campaign, but the boys in red and black dismissed Hiroshima on the reverse leg with a 2-0 win.
Escaping the group was an achievement in itself, especially given A-League peers Melbourne Victory and Central Coast Mariners failed to do so.
Next up was Guangzhou Evergrande, the Chinese side who were the four-time reigning Chinese Super League champions and the defending champions of Asia.
The Pirtek Stadium resulted in a 1-0 victory for Western Sydney, putting them in a good position ahead of their Chinese sojourn. Tianhe Stadium, on the south coast of China, was a hostile environment for the Wanderers and the 55,000-plus Evergrande fans made sure the small club from Western Sydney did not feel welcome.
The match could not have gotten off to a better start for the Wanderers, with star striker Tomi Juric scoring from the penalty spot to double the lead and give his side a crucial away goal which proved pivotal to Western Sydney’s ACL endeavours, as Guangzhou Evergrande hit back with goals from Alessandro Diamanti and Elkson. The Wanderers advanced to the semi-finals and earned them a date with FC Seoul at Parramatta.
It took just three minutes for beers and scarves to fly into the air, as Mateo Poljak hammered home the opener, before Shannon Cole booked his team an historic place in the final against Saudi giants, Al Hilal.
Against all odds, they prevailed 1-0 on aggregate. Now it is back to reality, as the A-League continues to roll on. First up is the Wellington Phoenix at home tonight at Westpac Stadium, followed by another long flight to visit the Perth Glory at NIB Stadium.
The mileage covered this year by the Wanderers has never been done by any Australian club. But if you were to ask any Wanderers player, staff member or supporter if it was worth the effort, they would give you the same answer: “Yes, every inch.” – Jake O’Brien
Top photo from Graeme Gillmer Flickr photostream