Western Sydney Wanderers are Asian champions

Wild celebrations in Parramatta
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They’ve done it. Western Sydney Wanderers have achieved the seemingly impossible to become the first Australian champions of Asia. A club that didn’t exist three years ago has now clinched the greatest result in Australian club football history by toppling Asia’s club of the century to win a historic champions league title.

The Wanderers hung on by the skin of their teeth, with a mixture of desperation and luck denying their hosts, who looked destined to win a third ACL title. It was exhausting just to watch as the suburban club from Sydney’s western suburbs braved wave after wave of attack from the club of the Saudi kingdom. They survived the heat of the Arabian desert, the intimidation from nearly 70,000 passionate male fans, laser pointers directed into their eyes and most importantly a match against a team that feels aggrieved not to be on the podium.

The Wanderers didn’t arrive at the King Fahd Stadium to outplay Al-Hilal, they weren’t even here to match them on the field and if no other team in Asia could up until this point, how can you blame them? They saved their most desperate defending for their hardest test and with the luck of seeing four penalty claims waved away.

It was clear from kick-off that the Wanderers faced the football equivalent of a firing squad. There was little they could do to stop Al-Hilal controlling the match so their best hope was making sure their opponents missed when the inevitable shots at goal came. What they lacked in possession the Wanderers made up for with defensive steel. Playing with 11 defenders in different positions, Brendon Santalab the most advanced, the Wanderers frustrated their opponents just as they did in Parramatta last week.

The Blue Wave of Saudi football crashed against the defensive wall of the Wanderers that initially stopped a flow of possession from becoming clear-cut chances. When the chances arrived, they spurned them as Brazilian star Thiago Neves missed a free header from close range.

The hosts’ finishing failed them and so too did their luck. Al-Hilal felt they should’ve been awarded a penalty on the half-hour mark when Salem Al-Dawsari’s shot struck the arm of Santalab. Referee Yuichi Nishimura waved play-on instead of pointing to the spot deeming the contact unavoidable.

What was frustration simmered to fury on the stroke of half time when Al-Hilal were denied a clear-cut penalty. On the back foot defending a counter-attack, the Wanderers were finally exposed allowing Nawaf Al-Abid through on goal, only to be hauled down by Antony Golec in the box. Again Nishimura waved play-on for what appeared a clear penalty decision. The protests followed the referee down the tunnel during the break and are sure to continue for days in the Kingdom.

With the Wanderers having barely any possession beyond clearances, Tony Popovic brought on Brazilian playmaker Vitor Saba to gain some grip on the play. Despite the change, matters stayed the same. The Wanderers had little more influence on the tempo and Al-Hilal were denied yet another penalty. Santalab again was the accused as a raised arm blocked a cross inside the box but for the third time that night, Nishimura had nothing of it.

Al-Hilal captain Yasser Al-Qahtani was brought on and made an immediate impact, almost delivering for his vocal fans. Al-Qahtani, inside the box, controlled a cross with his right foot before unleashing with his left and looked certain to find the back of the net. His shot beat Covic, finally, but an unfortunate outswing skimmed the wrong side of the upright.

The mood turned toxic inside the King Fahd Stadium when Nishimura waved away a fourth penalty claim of the evening when Covic appeared to have brought down his man inside the box. He was second to the ball as his man tumbled over but yet again it was the same result from the referee. Fans ripped an official AFC banner from the top tier, throwing it below in a clear message of their disgust.

 

Al-Hilal even beat Nikolai Topor-Stanley in the air but headers were flashed wide or into Covic’s arms. Al-Hilal’s’ fluency eroded into panic in a sign the Wanderers plan was working. Nasser Al-Shamrani, Asia’s second leading scorer fired a point-blank header into the side of the net and then when Al-Qahtani finally hit a shot at close range he could not beat Covic. The Wanderers goalkeeper did enough to fumble the ball anxiously wide, ending any hopes of Asia’s club of the century adding another jewel to their crown.  A flurry of punches and spats from Al-Hilal met the final whistle but it did nothing to dent Western Sydney Wanderers conquering Asia. Next up, Real Madrid, San Lorenzo and the Club World Cup.


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Western Sydney Wanderers’ Asian Champions League victory is the greatest by an Australian club

Scuffle, spitting and headbuttWanderers win first title
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All hail Tony Popovic and his team from Western Sydney, champions of Asia and now set to rub shoulders with the world’s elite teams – including the Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired galacticos of Real Madrid – at the next club world championships in Morocco later this year.

The Wanderers defied all the odds – a packed stadium and a frenzied opponent – to keep a clean sheet in the early hours of Sunday morning and win the title on a 1-0 aggregate over Al Hilal, the Saudi Arabian team who reacted to their Asian Champions League final loss in poor fashion.

It is, surely, the greatest triumph of an Australian club in a sporting competition.

It was a victory for grit, organisation, dedication, commitment and professionalism. Not to mention large chunks of luck, as the Saudi side – under enormous pressure to win this game in front of a capacity crowd and carrying huge expectations from the country’s rulers – were denied several penalty claims, at least two of them looking clear cut.

But take nothing away from the achievements of Western Sydney. This was a side that did not exist barely three years ago.

It was put together by a rookie coach – Popovic had had limited experience as an assistant at Crystal Palace and Sydney FC before becoming the boss at the A-League’s new franchise – and initially struggled to score a goal, never mind pick up a few points, in its early A-League games.

Popovic had few stars save for initial marquee man Shinji Ono, the Japanese veteran. In fact many of his first signings were discards and cast offs from other A-League teams or younger players looking to make a mark.

It is a matter of history now that the Wanderers stormed through the A-League at their first essay, taking the Premiers Plate but falling short in the Grand Final. It was a similar story in their second season, when they were defeated in extra time in the Grand Final by Brisbane.

But Popovic rallied his side, tapped into their self belief and conviction as they shrugged aside that defeat to progress in the Asian Champions League.

Sure, they rode their luck at times, perhaps never more than in the second leg of the final.

But the saying that you make your own luck is usually not far of the mark, and Popovic’s side,which has never traded on individual brilliance, has always tended to work, graft and manufacture anything, including luck, which has come its way.

Make no mistake, this is an enormous achievement, the greatest by any Australian club in a sporting competition.

Western Sydney took on the might of Asia, the expansively funded clubs fuelled by the petro dollars of the oil rich sheiks of the Middle East and the business tycoons of South East Asia, and triumphed.

While their opponents could lavish millions on big names and star players, top line coaches and a battery of assistants, Popovic and his crew have achieved this success on a relative shoe-string, hemmed in by the A-League salary cap and a number of competition rules which prohibit the amount of foreign players a club can sign and even mandate certain numbers of youngsters in the squad.

It works well for the A-League, which is a paragon of democracy where every team can beat the other on any given day. It is less forgiving in a cut throat environment such as continental competition, where the most lavishly funded, well heeled clubs tend to rule the roost.

That Western Sydney has managed to conquer despite these disadvantages is a huge tribute to the thoroughness and tactical acumen of their manager, the discipline, work rate and ability of their players and, in no small measure, to the fanatical support they have received throughout their existence from their fans.

So many Australian sides – apart from Adelaide United, who reached the final in 2008 only to lose heavily to Gamba Osaka – have moaned and complained about the financial disparity between them and their opponents  and have used it as an excuse almost before they kicked off in the competition. Wanderers, despite a very sticky start, didn’t whinge or cavil, they simply got on with the job in hand.

That the Wanderers were an idea waiting to happen no one doubted. The wonder is that it took the FFA so long to sign off on the concept.

They have rapidly become, along with Melbourne Victory, the powerhouse side in the country as far as a supporter base is concerned. They have now outstripped Victory, and everyone else, in achievement: in my book, a continental championship outranks Brisbane’s three domestic titles and Victory and Sydney FC’s two.

Popovic has enhanced his status no end with this triumph. The FFA was always going to overlook him in favour of Ange Postecoglou this time last year when it was seeking a Holger Osieck replacement, but surely he will be amongst the front runners next time, whenever that will be.

It is a moot point where the ex-Socceroo will be. His name is now sure to be on the shopping list of some of Asia’s largest clubs, if not clubs from further afield. His achievement, given the short time frame from Wanderers inception to this, its greatest moment, speaks volumes for his coaching ability and his capacity to build a club.

Wanderers officials and executives should also take a bow. Putting the club together from scratch was never easy, and few expected any success at all for the first few years.

Popovic will want to finish what he has started if at all possible and guide the Wanderers to their inaugural A-League title. It is an irony that they can beat the best in the region but have yet to prove themselves masters in their own back yard – a tribute to the depth of competition and the equivalency measures in operation in Australia.

Business will begin as usual next weekend when the bottom of the table side (who have lost their only two A-League fixtures this season) return to domestic action.

Wanderers win is also a timely boost for the Asian Cup,being hosted by Australia early next year. If the Socceroos are not inspired by this achievement, they never will be!!


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Western Sydney Wanderers crowned Asian championsVideo, photos

Western Sydney Wanderers crowned Asian champions | Video, photos A Wanderers fan watches the Asian Champions League final match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Al Hilal at Centenary Square, Parramatta. Picture: Getty Images.
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Western Sydney Wanderers hold the trophy as they celebrate winning their second-leg soccer match of the Asian Champions League final against Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh. Picture: Reuters.

Brendan Hamill of the Western Sydney Wanderers heads the ball. Picture: Reuters.

Goalkeeper Ante Covic of the Western Sydney Wanderers celebrates. Picture: Reuters.

Mihai Pintilii of Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal fights for the ball with Antony Golec. Picture: Reuters.

Mihai Pintilii of Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal fights for the ball with Mateo Poljak of the Western Sydney Wanderers. Picture: Reuters.

Nawaf Al Abed of Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal fights for the ball with Antony Golec of Western Sydney Wanderers. Picture: Reuters.

Western Sydney Wanderers celebrate. Picture: Reuters.

Players of Western Sydney Wanderers hold the trophy as they celebrate after winning their second-leg soccer match of the Asian Champions League final against Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal. Picture: Reuters.

Salman Al Faraj of Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal reacts during their second-leg soccer match of the Asian Champions League final against Western Sydney Wanderers. Picture: Reuters.

The referee gestures at Kwabena Appiah and Labinot Haliti of Western Sydney Wanderers. Picture: Reuters.

Wanderers fans celebrate victory after watching the Asian Champions League final match. Picture: Getty Images.

Wanderers fans chant as the team prepares to lift the trophy to celebrate. Picture: Getty Images.

Wanderers fans cheer as they celebrate victory. Picture: Getty Images.

Wanderers fans cheer as they celebrate victory. Picture: Getty Images.

Wanderers fans light flares as they watch the Asian Champions League final match between Western Sydney Wanders and Al Hilal at Centenary Square in Parramatta. Picture: Getty Images.

Wanderers fans light flares as they watch the Asian Champions League final match. Picture: Getty Images.

Wanderers fans react after a missed shot on goal as they watch the Asian Champions League final match. Picture: Getty Images.

Wanderers fans sing and cheer as they watch the Asian Champions League final match. Picture: Getty Images.

Wanderers fans sing as they watch the Asian Champions League final match. Picture: Getty Images.

Wanderers fans sing as they watch the Asian Champions League final match. Picture: Getty Images.

Wanderers fans watch the Asian Champions League final match between Western Sydney Wanders and Al Hilal at Centenary Square, Parramatta. Picture: Getty Images.

TweetFacebookIt was exhausting just to watch as the suburban club from Sydney’s western suburbs braved wave after wave of attack from the club of the Saudi Kingdom. They survived the heat of the Arabian desert, the intimidation from nearly 70,000 passionate male fans, laser pointers directed into their eyes and most importantly a match against a team that feels aggrieved not to be on the podium.

Incredible – it looks like Covic is on a dance floor at a night club #ACL2014#ACLFinalpic.twitter杭州龙凤论坛m/dO7uudDLfi

— PhilSpeak (@PhilSpeak) November 1, 2014


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Meet the woman standing up to the Islamic State

Olfat Mahmoud says she would be at extreme risk if Islamic State militants penetrated the Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon where she and her family live. Olfat Mahmoud says she would be at extreme risk if Islamic State militants penetrated the Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon where she and her family live.
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Olfat Mahmoud says she would be at extreme risk if Islamic State militants penetrated the Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon where she and her family live.

Olfat Mahmoud once stopped extremists linked to Islamic State from infiltrating and recruiting youth in the Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon where she and her family have lived a stateless existence for 66 years. The terrorists threatened to kill her and close her organisation.

Whether Ms Mahmoud, who doesn’t wear a veil,  can repeat her brave feat eight years later is less certain, as Lebanon becomes the next target for Islamic State.

By reminding the community of its liberal roots, her community has already managed to expel al-Qaeda extremists – who went on to rebrand themselves as Islamic State.

But now the women’s leader said worsening conditions in the overcrowded camp where 37,000 people live on the equivalent of two Aussie football fields, had made young people more vulnerable to radical views. Young people and children make up 60 per cent  of the camp’s population.

“Young people are desperate, they have no power, they have no money, they are easy target for brainwashing. This is what worries us. We don’t want money. We need to prevent it, and the only way to prevent it is by supporting Palestinians [to return to their homeland],”  she says.

On Saturday, Ms Mahmoud, the director of the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organisation, finished a two-week visit to Australia sponsored by Union Aid Abroad-Apheda, the humanitarian arm of the Australian union movement, to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Like all Palestinian refugees she has no passport, so her visit and official papers were organised by Apheda.

It was her eighth Australian visit in 30 years to win support for the Palestinian cause, yet she said conditions had deteriorated in the camp created as a temporary solution back in 1948.

Her son, like most young people, was sitting around “doing nothing”, unable to find a job despite obtaining a degree in business and finance. Many young people had lost any motivation to study because there were no jobs. The camp was too small and crowded for children and young people to play outside, buildings built as temporary accommodation were collapsing every week, the water was bad, and there were repeated deaths from electrocution caused by falling makeshift, illegal power lines.

Overcrowding has also increased – more than 10,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria had flooded into the Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp near Beirut airport where she lives, placing more pressure on already struggling families living in slumlike conditions.

According to the Carnegie Middle East Centre, only 10 per cent of Syrian Palestinians are employed in Lebanon.

With the recent fighting in Syria, Ms Mahmoud said the Palestinian people had been forgotten. “We are left behind. Because we are not the trend or the fashion anymore, because the international community only looks at war areas,” she said, adding that suffering without blood didn’t seem to attract funding or attention.

“Always with international community and donors, blood attracts their attention,” she said. Funding to her organisation and others had decreased.

Rather than life getting better, the situation has got worse, she said. “We have been refugees since 1948. We are born stateless, homeless, we have a very difficult life,” she said.

If Islamic State penetrated her camp, she would be at extreme risk.

“We are really at risk with them, because they see me as a bad Muslim. As a woman, even if you are in hijab [head covering] and you are outspoken, they see you as dangerous.”

Her group worked with women and families to recognise the signs that their children are being brainwashed.  Last time the extremists threatened the community, her group reminded the community of its history and culture. “We used to celebrate Christmas and Ramadan together. Women and men used to dance together. We were really surprised by why people became more conservative.

“My people in general and in camps are aware that [Islamic State] and extremists don’t represent us. They are not real Muslims. But what worries us is younger generation being hopeless, and they don’t work, and they don’t have anything to lose. This is why we want young people to somehow feel that there is somehow some hope.”


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Cooler conditions help firefighters as blaze burns out of control in Blue Mountains

A house is destroyed by fire on Cliff Drive at Katoomba. Photo: Channel Nine Firefighters try to save a house at Katoomba. Photo: Nine News/Top Notch Video
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Bushfire destroys home

Firefighters in the Blue Mountains are being aided by cooler conditions as they continue to fight an out-of-control blaze that claimed one home on Saturday.

By Sunday morning the fire had receded from the top of an escarpment where it destroyed one home on Cliff Drive, about three kilometres from the centre of Katoomba.

The fire’s status was downgraded overnight and residents’ homes were not in immediate danger. They were being advised to monitor news and prepare for warnings from firefighters.

The fire has dropped to the floor of the Megalong Valley, where firefighters’ paths are blocked by thickets of gum trees.

The Rural Fire Service said aerial, water-bombing firefighting units would be supporting Sunday’s operations.

A number of firefighters continue to surround homes on Cliff Drive,

About 60 residents chose to voluntarily leave their homes on Saturday and spent the night in an evacuation centre.

Resident Patricia Houston said she felt more should have been done to protect the area around homes.

“If you look at the vegetation it’s been allowed to grow back, even when it was [burnt last year],” she said. “We’re still worried. It’s still so early in the morning.”

The fire has consumed about six hectares and is burning out of control.

But conditions on Sunday are better than Saturday’s hot and dry weather, which firefighters described as the worst in decades.

Firefighters were aided by cooler weather on Saturday night. It was about seven degrees in Katoomba at 8am.

Sunday’s forecast top for the Blue Mountains is 21 degrees, significantly lower than Sunday’s, but could drop even lower in the elevated area near the fire.


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