Match of the Season Countdown #1


With the season done and dusted (save for the small matter of a Champions League Quarter Final) we thought we would take you through the best matches of 2013/14.

With the season done and dusted (save for the small matter of a Champions League Quarter Final) we thought we would take you through the best matches of 2013/14.

ACL Round of 16, Leg 2: Western Sydney Wanderers 2 – Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0

What a glorious night at Wanderland. With our backs firmly against the wall Western Sydney pulled off what will stand as one of the club-s most memorable victories, defying the odds to beat reigning J-League Champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-0 and qualify for the AFC Champions League Quarter Finals. A stunning victory which is without a doubt deserving of the number one spot in our countdown for matches of the season.

The Wanderers had endured two tough weeks on the road falling first to a devastating 2-1 loss in the Hyundai A-League Grand Final followed almost immediately by a salt-in-the-wound 3-1 downing in the first leg of their Round of 16 fixture with Sanfrecce Hiroshima in Japan.

The Wanderers- second leg against Hiroshima was now more than just an opportunity to add another glittering chapter to an already outstanding history; it was a redemption match, the side-s chance to move on from the Grand Final and a final occasion to finish the season on a high at Wanderland.

Despite their first leg loss the prospects for the Red & Black were certainly hopeful. A 78th minute penalty from Tomi Juric meant the Wanderers had a crucial away goal up their sleave and a 2-0 victory would be enough to seal their place in the Quarter Finals.

While facing a side who had managed only one win from their previous nine away fixtures in the ACL and none on Australian turf history appeared to be in the home side-s favour. Additionally after six games Western Sydney-s defence was the best in the AFC Champions League with four clean sheets.

However, as everyone at Wanderland knew the match was in no way going to be a walk in the park, Hiroshima wouldn-t give up the Club-s first Quarter Final appearance without a fight.

When the game kicked off everyone could feel the tension. Both sides had it all to play for and wouldn-t settle for anything less than progression further into the competition.

Though as time went by the cagey first half slowly began to open up and Western Sydney-s attacking intentions became known as host of promising opportunities went tantalisingly close.

The best of these chances falling to Shinji Ono who off the back of a cleared shot from Youssouf Hersi let loose a powerful long range drive that sailed just high of the cross bar and out of danger for Hiroshima.

Despite consistent and promising attack towards the end of the opening 45- the Wanderers were forced to go in at half time frustrated, without a goal and with their Champions League dream hanging in the balance.

In the second half Ono in his last game for the Red & Black was at his vintage best and looked to have a point to prove surging forward wherever possible and tirelessly trying to break through a sturdy Hiroshima defence.

However, just after half time our Japanese talisman was set to be rewarded and give Wanderland one last taste of his swift technique, vision and determination as he helped the Wanderers to their first goal.

Setting up play cleverly as Western Sydney passed the ball around teasingly just outside the Hiroshima penalty area Ono found a rebounded ball land perfectly at his feet. Forced to dribble down to the goal line he managed a difficult last ditch cross into the centre of goal which was only able to find the Hiroshima defence who carelessly headed it away.

Shannon Cole who was lurking on the outer left side of the 18 yard box grabbed the ball and in a showcase of beautiful control and an undeniable eye for goal he chested the ball down and slammed a right footed volley into the back of the net. Scoring one of the goals of the season and giving Western Sydney a crucial lead.

With Hiroshima likely to continue sitting back in defence and the Wanderers needing only one more goal they began to dominate with wave after wave of attack.

Youssouf Hersi was the next player to bring Wanderland to its feet when Shinji Ono let loose a beautifully weighted free-kick that was bicycle kicked across goal and into the head of a diving Hersi who put the ball just wide and had the collective hearts of the stadium in their mouth.

The crowd full of anticipation picked up their energy and continued to inspire the side, cheering every touch and every forward play, willing the Red & Black to keep pushing for a winner.

With only five minutes remaining the Wanderers were running out of time, a 1-0 win wouldn-t seal their place in the quarter-finals. However despite time running out anything other than Wanderers- progression wasn-t on the cards for Brendon Santalab.

Santa who had so many times before come out of nowhere to lead Western Sydney to victory was determined to push his side into the Quarter Finals, standing up as the Red & Black-s hero once again.

Hiroshima now barely hanging on in defence were unable to deal with a long and lofty ball into the penalty area only managing a sloppy header into the ground. Santalab lying in wait just outside the box bolted towards the ball using his pace to out run his scrambling defender and was able to capitalise on the chance and taking his shot rocketed the ball into Hiroshima-s goal.

That was it. The crowd knew it, the players knew it, Pirtek Stadium was a pulsating Red & Black Wanderland.

The Wanderers in the their ACL debut had become only the second Australian side to book their place in the AFC Champions League Quarter Finals thanks to a moment of magic from their number 11.

Although the A-League season hadn-t ended with a fairy-tale Grand Final victory Western Sydney had spoilt their fans with an outstanding performance on a cold Tuesday night to send off a host of departing players and finish their 2013/14 campaign on a high.