Western Sydney takes 1-0 lead over Saudi Al Hilal
Tomi Juric's second-half goal gave the Wanderers a slender lead ahead of the return leg in Riyadh next week
Western Sydney Wanderers took a big step toward being the first Australian club to win the continental title by beating Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal 1-0 in the first leg of the Asian Champions League final on Saturday night.
Australia international striker Tomi Juric's second-half goal only minutes after coming on as a substitute gave the Wanderers a slender lead ahead of the return leg in Riyadh next week.
Juric slid to get his foot to Antony Golec's superb curling cross in the 64th minute to score only the third goal against Al Hilal's much-vaunted defense in its past 10 ACL matches.
Al Hilal sprang to life after conceding and staged a furious late rally in a bid to score a crucial away goal but was denied by a mix of poor finishing and excellent goalkeeping by Ante Covic.
Al Hilal's best chance came to Alfaraj Salman in second-half injury time but it was saved by Covic from close range.
The Wanderers fairytale run has seen it defeat big-spending 2013 champion Guangzhou Evergrande in the quarterfinals and last year's finalists FC Seoul in the semis.
Only a clean sheet in the return leg next week in Riyadh stands between the Wanderers and securing Australia's first club continental title.
Al Hilal's defense had not much to do for almost an hour as the Wanderers failed to record a shot on goal, but the introduction of Juric in the 59th changed the contest dramatically.
Juric replaced Brendon Santalab for his first start of the season after a groin injury and within minutes had made his presence felt by winning a free kick just outside Al Hilal's penalty area, but Cole's attempt was blocked by Al Hilal's defensive wall.
Golec was then played down the flank by Haliti and the defender placed a superb curling cross on to the foot of Juric, who squeezed his shot under Al-Sudairy to open the scoring in the 64th minute.
Juric almost added another minutes later but his low shot hit the inside of the post.
Goal-scoring chances were at a premium in a cagey first-half as both teams prioritized defense and easily absorbed the attacking raids that often broke down after an overly forced pass through congested defensive lines.
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