Western Sydney Wanderers v Al-Hilal: The lowdown
Saturday, 25 October 2014 Parramatta Stadium
Kick off: 7:30pm
Live from 7pm on Fox Sports 3
Odds: Western Sydney Wanderers $2.45, Draw $3.10, Al-Hilal $3.00 (Sportsbet上海龙凤论坛m.au)
Western Sydney (4-2-3-1): Covic; Golec, Topor-Stanley, Hamill, Mullen; La Rocca, Poljak; Bridge, Saba, Haliti; Santalab.
Al-Hilal (4-4-2 diamond): Al-Sudairy; Al-Zoari, Digao, Kwak, Al-Shahrani; Al-Farij, Pintilii, Thiago Neves, Al-Dawsari; Al-Salem, Al-Shamrani
ROAD TO THE FINAL
Western Sydney: Finished top of Group H. Round of 16: defeated Sanfrecce Hiroshima (Japan) on away goals (3-3). Quarter finals: Guangzhou Evergrande (China) on away goals (2-2). Semi-finals: defeated FC Seoul (South Korea) 2-0 on aggregate.
Al-Hilal: Finished top of Group D. Round of 16: defeated FC Bunyodkor (Uzbekistan) 4-0 on aggregate. Quarter finals: defeated Al-Sadd (Qatar) 1-0 on aggregate. Semi-finals: defeated Al-Ain (United Arab Emirates) 4-2 on aggregate.
FIVE TO WATCH
1. Brendon Santalab (Western Sydney)
Was cleared of a hamstring strain earlier in the week and is the likely option to start ahead of Labinot Haliti, with Tomi Juric still considered an injury risk. Expect him to be given an hour to run his socks off and make an impact.
2. Thiago Neves (Al-Hilal)
Undoubtedly the best player from Al-Hilal, Thiago Neves is a wonderfully skilled attacking midfielder capable of unlocking any defence on his day. Various clubs have shelled out a total of $32 million in transfer fees for his services. Capped seven times by Brazil, he is among the most damaging players in Asia.
3. Nikolai Topor-Stanley (Western Sydney)
Was admonished by coach Tony Popovic for not being up to his usual standards in the Sydney derby, although he qualified that statement by saying Topor-Stanley was fatigued after returning from international duty. Excuses this time? None.
4. Nasser Al-Shamrani (Al-Hilal)
“The Earthquake” has been in stunning form in Asia this campaign, bagging 10 goals – only two behind Ghana’s World Cup star Asamoah Gyan. Should he live up to his nickname, the pint-sized forward will give the Wanderers’ defence plenty to worry about.
5. Vitor Saba (Western Sydney)
Simply has to deliver two of the best matches of his life. Al-Hilal boast some mercurial talent and the Wanderers need one of their attackers to strike fear into opposition hearts. Saba’s tricky feet make him capable but we still haven’t seen the best of him.
THE KEY MATCH-UP
Mateo Poljak (Western Sydney Wanderers) v Mihai Pintilii (Al-Hilal)
Out of all the players coach Laurentiu Reghecampf could have gone for – an enormous range considering the unlimited finances of Al-Hilal – he hunted Pintilii right away. That has got to say something about his qualities. He will sit in the middle of the park and dictate all that happens around him. With Iacopo La Rocca stalking Thiago Neves, Poljak needs to be on Pintilli’s case all night.
IN THE DUGOUT
Tony Popovic (Western Sydney Wanderers)
This is probably the biggest match of his club career, as player or coach. The Wanderers have pulled a swiftie by keeping this match at Parramatta Stadium and now they must capitalise before the return leg in the heat of Riyadh. However, Popovic has geared his team for this moment and they are determined to capitalise.
Laurentiu Reghecampf (Al-Hilal)
Considered one of the most promising managerial talents in eastern Europe, Reghecampf was snatched by Al-Hilal on a multimillion-dollar contract after resurrecting Romanian greats Steaua Bucuresti to their former heights. He only just turned 39 last month.