Tony Popovic orchestrated a remarkable upset in the regional competition, gaining the aggregate advantage over the big-spending champions
Western Sydney Wanderers have pulled off one of the greatest wins in their short history, beating reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande 1-0 in a fiery AFC Champions League quarter-final first leg on Wednesday night in Sydney.
In front of more than 17,000 at a rocking Parramatta Stadium, Antony Golec’s second-half goal was the difference to stun the Chinese giants.
A thrilling contest ended in plenty of drama as both Zhang Linpeng and Gao Lin were sent off in the dying minutes for lashing out at Wanderers players.
It led to seething Guangzhou coach Marcelo Lippi storming the field in protest as the game ended in farcical fashion.
But all of that will matter little to Tony Popovic and has side who now have a huge chance to progress to the semi-finals in next week’s second leg in China.
Despite facing a side with a huge budget and star-studded line-up, the Wanderers were good value for their epic win.
The visitors were dealt a blow even before kick-off as they were forced to walk to the ground from their team hotel after their bus broke down.
It didn’t seem to affect them early though as they flew out of the blocks with Chinese international Gao Lin going close twice inside the first 10 minutes.
In an open start to the match, the Wanderers also had their chances and went close twice in the space of four minutes on the quarter-hour mark.
First Labinot Haliti’s lob sailed just wide of the post before Mark Bridge was denied by a smothering save by Guangzhou goalkeeper Zeng Cheng after Tomi Juric’s scuffed shot found its way into his path.
Guangzhou dominated possession and territory for the rest of the half but it was still the home side who should have taken a lead to the break.
Haliti did brilliantly down the left before crossing to an unmarked Shannon Cole at the far post but he somehow headed wide of the mark from just six yards out.
Unlike the first half, it was the Wanderers who gained the ascendancy on the resumption and they got the reward on the hour from an unlikely source.
Golec was giving too much space down the left, cutting back inside onto his right foot and rolling in a cross which beat everyone and nestled in the far corner.
New Brazilian recruit Vitor Saba came on soon after for his Wanderers debut and showed glimpses of what he will offer in the upcoming A-League season.
The visitors’ frustrations boiled over late on as both Linpeng and Gao were sent off, ruling them out of next week’s second leg.