Goalkeeper Ante Covic has urged Western Sydney Wanderers to put their “front foot forward” in Saturday’s AFC Champions League final second leg against Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in Riyadh as the A-League side seek to build on last week’s 1-0 win to claim Australia’s maiden continental title.
Substitute Tomi Juric was the match-winning hero, as the striker netted just after the hour mark at Parramatta Stadium at the weekend, although veteran goalkeeper Covic made an equally vital contribution to Western Sydney’s sixth consecutive home win in the competition with a number of key saves particularly in the closing stages.
And Western Sydney depart for Riyadh on Tuesday ahead of the return fixture at King Fahd Stadium knowing an away goal would leave two-time Asian champions Al Hilal needing to score at least three to deny the AFC Champions League debutants their maiden continental crown.
“It is dangerous to try and protect a goal, especially over there as it is going to be intimidating,” said Covic, who has now kept seven cleansheets in the AFC Champions League this season.
“They are probably going to get a second wind over there playing in front of their own fans, but we as a team, we have never been one who are comfortable in sitting off and trying to protect something as we want to win everything and we have to take that attitude into the game with our front foot forward and hopefully it will be enough.”
A capacity crowd of close to 70,000 is expected at the King Fahd Stadium on Saturday, and while not as impressive as their home form, Western Sydney have proven themselves to be a tough competitor outside of Australia after claiming away wins in China and Korea Republic during the group stage.
Tony Popovic’s side did lose their Round of 16 tie to Sanfrecce Hiroshima in Japan and quarter-final to Guangzhou Evergrande in China, although on both occasions Juric netted vital away goals which ultimately saw Western Sydney through.
And last time on the road in the AFC Champions League, Western Sydney claimed a goalless draw against 2013 finalists FC Seoul in Korea.
“We approached the first game with the hope of getting a result and that is what we needed as we know we will face a very difficult opposition over there in very intimidating circumstances,” added 39-year-old Covic, who was rested for the away wins over Guizhou Renhe and Ulsan Hyundai in Korea during the group stage which took place at the end of the previous A-League season.
“We got a 1-0 win and were unlucky not to get a second as defensively we closed down everything they had at us, so the cleansheet is very important.”
Covic was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers on Saturday as Al Hilal pressed for their own away goal, although the visitors found the Western Sydney custodian on top of his game particularly during a frantic finish to the contest following’s Juric’s 64th minute strike.
“We knew they were going to be a very quick and skillful side, they haven’t reached the final for nothing, and they have got some every dangerous players who when we are not switched on can do damage. They came out flying, but we withstood the pressure and when we had opportunities to play we tried to play and had a few chances to put them on the backfoot and got that goal,” said Covic.
“We knew they liked shots as we had seen them play and they have players who can really hit the ball well, but anytime they had an opportunity on the edge of the box. we snuffed them out.
“They also tried to dink little balls in behind and we dealt with it fantastically. We only really allowed them half chances, so it is a credit to the whole team.”
CAPTION – Western Sydney Wanderers goalkeeper Ante Covic has kept seven cleansheets in the AFC Champions League this season following Saturday’s 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in the first leg of their continental final.