Giant-slaying Wanderers ready for biggest game: Popovic
Western Sydney Wanderers have already confounded huge odds by reaching the Asian Champions League final at the first attempt but their players are in no mood to settle for that, coach Tony Popovic said on Friday.
Sydney: Western Sydney Wanderers have already confounded huge odds by reaching the Asian Champions League final at the first attempt but their players are in no mood to settle for that, coach Tony Popovic said on Friday.
The two-year-old Australian club take on Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia in the first leg of the final at their Parramatta Stadium home on Saturday, having seen off a string of the biggest clubs in Asia in their maiden continental campaign.
While former Socceroo Popovic has rightly earned plenty of plaudits for his inspirational leadership, he said the ambition of the players had been the driving force behind their success.
"I believe they were successful just entering the competition. That in itself was a fantastic story," he told a news conference.
"But these players are not satisfied with that. They`re not satisfied with just playing in the group stages, they wanted more. They were not satisfied with the round of 16, they wanted more. Same in the quarter-final, same in the semi.
"Although I`m extremely proud of the group, we`re here to win the final. Our only focus is, after the second leg, to be champions."
Not that Popovic is underestimating the task that faces his team against the twice-Asian champions and he led raucous laughter when he was asked: "Do you think the match will be easy?"
"We expect a tough match and we will give them a tough match," he replied.
"They are a very strong side with a proud history so we certainly respect them. We`ve identified ways we think we can win the match.
"We`re here to win a final, so as much as we respect them, we`ll do anything we can to get a positive result in the first leg."
There is a serious injury concern over striker Brendon Santalab (hamstring) but Popovic hopes forward Tomi Juric, who has recovered from a groin injury, and Socceroos defender Matthew Spiranovic, who had ankle surgery after the World Cup, will be available.
"Brendon`s the only one that`s is a real concern, he trains today and we see how he hope he`s available, but we also need players who are fully fit for such a big game," he said.
"If (Spiranovic) is a risk, he won`t play."
Popovic brushed aside concerns over his team`s start to the A-League season -- they have lost both matches and conceded seven goals -- and said a training camp they held in Dubai would help them in next Saturday`s second leg in Riyadh.Wanderers have beaten defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande, last season`s losing finalists FC Seoul, Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima and 2012 Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai on their road to the final.
That, Popovic thought, had given them confidence they could negotiate the final two hurdles and become the first Australian club to win Asia`s biggest club prize.
"We have another powerhouse to beat to be the champions," he said.
"We`re not afraid of that, we`re embracing that. This is the biggest game in our club`s history.
"We`re ready for this. I know the players will play tomorrow night and I`ll have no fear looking in their eyes, they`re ready."