The Wanderers are on the world stage again, and this time they’re not only representing Western Sydney and Australia, but Asia too. As ACL winners the Hyundai A-League outfit have drawn Mexican outfit Cruz Azul at the Club World Cup in Morocco, a side who’ve had an excellent preparation for the tournament. Real Madrid awaits the winner…
Sunday, 14 December 2014 (AEDT)
Prince Moulay Abdallah Stadium, Rabat
Kick-Off: 7.30pm (Local) (6.30am AEDT)
Western Sydney Wanderers FC
1 Ante COVIC, 2 Shannon COLE, 3 Daniel MULLEN, 4 Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY, 5 Brendan HAMILL, 6 Antony GOLEC, 7 Labinot HALITI, 8 Mateo POLJAK, 9 Tomi JURIC, 10 Vitor SABA, 12 Nikita RUKAVYTSYA, 13 Matthew SPIRANOVIC, 16 Jaushua SOTIRIO, 17 Romeo CASTELEN, 18 Iacopo LA ROCCA, 19 Mark BRIDGE, 20 Dean BOUZANIS, 22 Seyi ADELEKE, 23 Jason TRIFIRO, 31 Alusine FOFANAH, 32 Daniel ALESSI, 35 Kearyn BACCUS, 40 Thomas HEWARD-BELLE
1 Jose CORONA, 2 Fausto PINTO, 3 Francisco RODRIGUEZ, 4 Julio Cesar DOMINGUEZ, 5 Alejandro CASTRO, 6 Gerardo TORRADO, 7 Pablo BARRERA, 8 Marco FABIAN, 9 Mariano Hugo PAVONE, 10 Christian GIMENEZ, 11 Joao ROJAS MENDOZA, 12 Guillermo ALLISON, 15 Gerardo FLORES ZUÑIGA, 16 Rogelio CHAVEZ, 17 Emanuel LOESCHBOR, 18 Ismael VALADEZ ARCE, 19 Alejandro VELA, 20 Pablo TORRES, 21 Xavier BAEZ GAMINO, 23 Anibal ZURDO, 25 Yosgart GUTIERREZ SERNA, 27 Hernan BERNARDELLO, 33 Mauro FORMICA
TV Broadcast coverage – Live and exclusive coverage on FOX SPORTS 2 Channel 502 from 6am (AEDT)
The Wanderers’ incredible journey over their first two-and-a-half years reaches its peak with their outing in the FIFA Club World Cup. While they are struggling in the Hyundai A-League, they have shown in their short existence it doesn’t matter how they are performing they can put it together when it counts as we saw on the way too their stunning ACL triumph. The good news for coach Tony Popovic is he has a full squad to choose from, with no major injury concerns, the challenge now though is to pick the right starting XI.
Daniel Mullen and Antony Golec have rarely been sighted in the Hyundai A-League but were a big part of the ACL win and Popa might go with them in the full-back positions.
The other contentious selection decision will be who makes up the attacking three behind striker Tomi Juric. The likes of Labinot Haliti and Mark Bridge were the favourites during the ACL campaign but new-boys Nikita Rukavytsya, Romeo Castelen and Vitor Saba provide plenty of speed and flair also.
Like the Wanderers, Cruz Azul has been struggling domestically but have had a good couple of week’s preparation for this tournament, including a week-long training camp in Spain.
Mexican legend Gerardo Torrado is the veteran of the side and their leader but they have plenty of quality right throughout their squad. Pablo Barrera, Marco Fabian, Mariano Hugo Pavone, Christian Gimenez, Anibal Zurdo and Mauro Formica are just a few of the players the Wanderers have to contend with if they are to win this clash and progress through to a dream tie with European champions Real Madrid.
ROUTE TO GOAL
Scoring goals has been the Wanderers’ major issue in the Hyundai A-League, with just six goals from their nine games. While they have managed to create a host of chances in almost every match, they have lacked the composure and finesse to take them.
Striker Tomi Juric is key for their hopes, scoring in his last two Hyundai A-League appearances and he will need the speed and service from the likes of Nikita Rukavytsya and Romeo Castelen to make it happen.
With the Wanderers likely to play counter-attack, the speed of Rukavytsya and Castelen on the break could be decisive.
Most of Cruz Azul’s threat comes from imports Pavone, Gimenez and ex-EPL midfielder Formica.
WHO’S BEEN IN THE SPOTLIGHT THIS WEEK?
The entire Wanderers playing group. A dispute over payments for participating in the tournament has overshadowed the build-up for Popovic’s troops. However, the issue was resolved on Thursday meaning the team should be back to its unified self again.
The Wanderers haven’t won since lifting the ACL trophy in November (they defeated Al-Hilal 1-0 in the home first leg), and are without a victory in nine Hyundai A-League games this season including a last-up 2-0 loss to Adelaide United.
Cruz Azul haven’t fared much better, finishing 13th in the Apertura in Liga MX, with just five wins from 17 matches. Luis Fernando Tena’s side warmed up for the CWC with a 4-0 demolition of Spanish Segunda B side El Palo in a friendly last week.
Hugo Pavone, Aníbal Zurdo and Pablo Barrera were all on target for Cruz Azul.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Wanderers have both the oldest and youngest players at the tournament. Goal-keeper Ante Covic is the oldest at 39, while at the opposite end of the scale midfielder Alusine Fofanah is the youngest having only turned 17 in November. Fofanah is also the shortest player in Morocco at 1.65 metres (5’5) tall.
Western Sydney Wanderers FC 1-2 Cruz Azul
Despite their domestic struggles and off-field distractions, something tells me the Wanderers can put it all aside and produce one hell of a performance on the biggest club stage. It just might not be enough though against the well-drilled, well-prepared and classy Mexicans.