RIYADH: Western Sydney Wanderers will leap out of the frying pan and into the fire after winning the Asian Champions League to set up a clash against one of Latin America’s biggest sides and potentially an historic encounter with European champions Real Madrid.
The Wanderers locked in a date with Mexican powerhouse Cruz Azul in the first round of the Club World Cup in Morocco next month after being crowned the champions of Asia. It will be the most difficult match played by an Australian club since 2000 when South Melbourne played Manchester United, Vasco de Gama and Necaxa in the group stage of the Club World Cup.
After conquering Guangzhou Evergrande, FC Seoul and the team of the Saudi kingdom, Al Hilal, It will not get any easier for the Wanderers with the next giant standing in their path measuring their support base in the millions. According to a Mexican study conducted six years ago, more than 10 million people claimed to support Cruz Azul. That figure would have only grown since. Captained by one of Mexico’s greatest ever players, Gerrardo Torrado, the club was the first Mexican team to reach the final of the prestigious Copa Libertadores tournament. The Wanderers face the North American champions in Rabat, Morocco, on December 13 and should they achieve another seemingly impossible result, they will play Real Madrid three days later. A potential clash against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and Sergio Ramos was talked about by the players in their celebrations but they were still awed to be playing one of the giants of Mexican football.
Wanderers are the fourth Australian club to play in the tournament and the first to qualify as Asian champions. South Melbourne paved the way in 2000 before Sydney FC qualified as the last Australian Oceania champions in 2006, losing to Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica and then beating Egyptian giants Al Ahly in the fifth place play-off. Adelaide United reached the 2008 competition as runners-up of Asia due to champions Gamba Osaka qualifying as hosts. Adelaide were knocked out by Gamba in the first round. The immediate task facing the Wanderers’ new administration will be cashing a cheque worth $1.7 million awarded as prizemoney for winning the ACL which will be the first of many lining the coffers of the club. The Wanderers stand to collect a minimum of $3 million in total as a result of their success in Riyadh, with $1.1 million guaranteed for competing in the Club World Cup and another $200,000 reported to be on offer as a bonus from sponsors.
The Wanderers will keep all prizemoney and the players will get a share of the reward, with a large cut of the ACL prizemoney reported to be on offer as a bonus shared across the squad.
More imminent though is a test against Wellington Phoenix in the A-League on Friday night, which must be difficult to prepare for after achieving the greatest result in Australian club football history.