The Western Sydney Wanderers story continues tonight, live from Seoul. The rising Australian club with an Asian football pioneer (Tony Popovic) at the helm, is in a place that not even the most ardent and optimistic ‘red and black bloccers’ would have imagined. Popovic is quietly confident stating, “We may not have the experience they have . . . but we have a lot of belief that we can make the final.” Their clash against FC Seoul tonight puts them up against an experienced continental performer, who though struggling domestically are favourite for the two legged fixture.
Though comfortable in their role as underdog Wanderers would have preferred to be at full strength for the first leg. But in line with their ‘blue collar’ support base, they’ll do it tough. Poignantly it’s at the pointy end that the A-League club is deprived of regulars. Tomi Juric and Brendan Santalab are Western Sydney’s strike weapons, and in their absence it’s hard to see the Aussie club scoring in open play. Set pieces and defencive organisation will be pivotal if the Wanderers are to be successful. Former Mariners and current Jeonbuk (1st in K-League) defender Alex Wilkinson gives the Wanderers hope, noting that though the Koreans are solely focused on the ACL, “The Wanderers have nothing to be scared of.” He added, “Asian teams in general tend to struggle against really well-organised teams.”
FC Seoul have under achieved in this year’s K-League, up until now. Currently sitting 5th they’ve gone seven matches without defeat in the league since early August. Further to that, FC Seoul are on their way toward becoming a regional powerhouse, with ACL quarter final appearances in 2009, 2011, and a final appearance against Guangzhou Evergrande in 2013. Despite losing striker Dejan Damjanovic (now at Beijing Guoan) from last year’s squad, FC Seoul are once again figuring at the business end of the Asian Champions League. The team from the capital can brag the second stingiest defence in the K-League, and their quarter final win over Pohang Steelers is further evidence of their ‘park the bus’-edness. The game was 0-0 after 180 minutes, finally decided when Pohang choked in the penalty shoot-out.
Over the two legs there should be few chances for both teams, and it’s for that reason I see FC Seoul as eventual winners. The Koreans have a few more players with that individual brilliance that can break a stalemate. Expect to see imports Mauricio Molina and new signing Everton Santos have an influence on the result of this encounter, though they may not feature in the starting eleven. Molina’s willingness to shoot is something that neutrals will no doubt enjoy, and Western Sydney will do well to silence the Columbian. Many fans will also be familiar with international Cha, Du-Ri who despite his 34 years is still featuring in K-League best elevens. Though I’ve tipped FC Seoul to advance it’s certainly not a fixture I would invest any of my hard earned on. Good luck to both teams, but just quietly I’ll be hoping for the underdog to prove the doubters wrong as they did in the quarter final.