A trio of penalty saves by Dean Bouzanis and two wonder goals were not enough for the Champions of Asia to defeat ES Setif as they fell 5-4 in a penalty shoot-out.
The Western Sydney Wanderers led both in the match and three times in the shoot-out but were unable to complete the victory.
Romeo Castelen gave the Red & Black the perfect start when he opened his Wanderers goal scoring account with an effort that will go down as one of the best of the season.
Collecting the ball from a Labinot Haliti lay-off, the winger hit it first time from well outside the box, drilling it into the top corner of the net in the process.
It was a stunning strike and an opening that the Wanderers desperately needed after Sunday morning’s farcical scenes in Rabat.
A second goal should have come just ten minutes later as Haliti thundered a header off the crossbar from a free-kick with Mullen smashing the rebound against the left hand upright.
If that wasn’t enough, danger man Castelen showed fancy football and vision to set-up Haliti but their combination for the goal could not be reciprocated with Labi hitting it high and wide after finding himself behind the defensive line.
After such a dominant first half none would have predicted the change of fortunes in the second stanza as Setif equalised just five minutes in after an innocuous cross was bundled into the Wanderers net by Daniel Mullen.
Replays show that he looked to be unsighted.
And seven minutes later the comeback was complete with Setif scoring to take a 2-1 lead.
The calm and dominant play of the first half seemed forgotten by the Wanderers with the African Champions controlling play more and more. Even Tomi Juric’s free header straight to the keeper seemed against play as Setif looked to be cruising to victory and fifth place.
Vitor Saba though had other ideas.
Freshly off the bench the attacking midfielder won a free-kick in the 89th minute before promptly dispatching it into the net to force the match to penalties.
The Brazilian capped off a memorable few minutes on the pitch by scoring the opening penalty of the shoot-out before Bouzanis made the first of his three saves.
Despite further penalty conversions by Jason Trifiro, Tomi Juric and Alusine Fofanah, each time Bouzanis made a save the Wanderers failed to convert through Haliti (post), Bouzanis himself (save) and Mullen (save onto crossbar).
When Seyi Adeleke’s miss gave Setif an opportunity to win with their eighth spot-kick they made no mistake and took the win.
The Wanderers now return to Australia having finished in sixth place at the FIFA Club World Cup and will return to Hyundai A-League action on Sunday 28 December when they travel to New Zealand to take on Wellington Phoenix.