Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic conceded he was nervous throughout his side’s AFC Champions League (ACL) quarter-final second leg, but was proud of his exhausted side after their epic performance.
The Wanderers lost 2-1 to last year’s ACL champions Guangzhou Evergrande in China on Wednesday night but advanced on the away goals rule, having won their home leg in Sydney 1-0 last week.
After Western Sydney goalkeeper Ante Covic saved a first-half penalty, Tomi Juric gave the visitors the lead from the spot after the break, only for Evergrande to storm home.
But despite conceding twice, Popovic’s men denied their hosts the crucial third goal, which would have seen Evergrande progress, and the Wanderers became just the second A-League club to reach the final four of the ACL.
“I wasn’t thinking about the next round even when the score was 1-1 tonight,” Popovic told the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) website.
“I was very nervous during the entire match especially when they kept pressing us. My heart was about to jump out.
“But although Evergrande dominated the game, I am still very happy that we qualified.”
Alessandro Diamanti struck for Evergrande soon after Juric’s goal to give the three-time Chinese Super League champions some momentum but with Covic in inspired form, the Wanderers held on for long enough that Elkeson’s goal in stoppage time was too late for the home team.
Western Sydney rode their luck at times at the Tianhe Stadium, with Evergrande taking 17 shots to five for the match.
But with the 2014-15 A-League season still over a month away, Popovic was thrilled to see his team perform so well with so little match practice and in their debut ACL campaign.
“I feel very good and proud,” he said.
“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.”