Mark Bosnich pens a letter to Wanderers fans for the FIFA Club World Cup.
I often take my mind back to 1999 and an unbelievable night in Tokyo where I was playing for Manchester United against Palmieras in what we now know as the Club World Cup. Then it was called the Intercontinental Cup with the European Champions facing off against the South American Champions.
For me it was my World Cup Final. Australia, the country of my birthplace and whom I played internationally for would not make a World Cup Final in my playing life so I always saw this game as an opportunity to be a part of a team which for a certain time anyway could be the best in the world.
Growing up in Australia we had witnessed some great teams win this; Flamengo of Brazil, Boca Juniors of Argentina, the great AC Milan side of the late eighties/early nineties, Michel Platini’s Juventus, Red Star Belgrade, São Paolo, Ajax, Dortmund, Real Madrid the list goes on. But never a British side. Not the great Celtic side of Jock Stein, Sir Matt Busby’s Manchester United’s legends of the late sixties nor the great Liverpool sides of the eighties. Although this wasn’t really discussed amongst the players or staff we were all aware of it as we travelled to Japan.
Our league form was okay going into the game. I had missed the previous away win at Derby due to my knee blowing up on a needless trip for an international friendly vs Brazil’s second team in Australia. Seven days prior to the final however we had been beaten 2-0 in the UEFA Champions League by a Gabriel Batistuta inspired Fiorentina in Florence.
Our opponents Palmeiras, who were managed by Felipe Scholari, had been in Tokyo for over a week to prepare. We arrived three days beforehand. Tokyo is a beautiful place at that time of year, the people are great and we took in the sights (Sir Alex Ferguson had arranged a day at the races which, much to his displeasure, none of the players went to) before easing into preparations for the game.
However nothing could have prepared us for the onslaught we faced from Faustino Asprilla and co. Wave after wave they attacked us with everything they had only for Roy Keane to score from a break-away up the other end to make it 1-0 before the break. At half time, typically Roy was arguing with me about a goal-kick I had took just before the break.
Half time is where real managers earn their keep. Sir Alex definitely did that on that night. Although we were 1-0 up Palmeiras had all the play. He projected calm that night and gave us all the belief that we would win this trophy regardless of what transpired.
The second half panned out much as the first one although Ryan Giggs had a wonderful opportunity to finish it for us. The last 10 minutes felt like an eternity; I recall getting clattered by one of their players, getting the free-kick and still being a bit sore, asking Gary Neville to take it. He wasn’t happy about it but he took it and soon after the German referee blew his whistle for full time…we had won! That moment straight after the game is one of those feelings that make all the hard work and sacrifices over the years seem worth it.
Ron Corry, who is on the bench tonight, came into my mind as someone who had ploughed so much time and effort into me as a youngster as did Mum and Dad who sacrificed so much. We were World Champions!
On that night I had the pleasure of walking off the field, as Sir Alex said afterwards, being part of the first British side to become World Club Champions. I fulfilled a boyhood dream. Later that season I fulfilled another boyhood dream when I became an English Premier League winner as we finished on top by a still record margin of 18 points.
As the Intercontinental Cup morphed into the FIFA Club World Cup Zeljko Kalac won it as well being part of the A.C Milan squad in 2007. As he will tell you, the opportunity now for a team from where we both grew up, in the West of Sydney is immense.
The first match will be against the CONCACAF Champions Cruz Azul. Win that match and the Semi-Final provides the Western Sydney Wanderers with the wonderful opportunity to play against the reigning European Champions Real Madrid who have Zeljko’s old manager Carlo Ancellotti (who was also part of that famous A.C Milan side of the late eighties).
This has been a fabulous achievement by Tony Popovic and the whole of the Wanderers club, only just into its third season. To you, the fans, who have become the best supporters in any code in Australia; cherish this moment.