Wanderers' hearts crushed in extra-time
In a match played in farcical conditions on a heavily waterlogged pitch, Iacopo La Rocca’s stunning goal midway through the second half looked to have the Wanderers on track for a clash with European champions Real Madrid.
But after Matthew Spiranovic was sent off soon after, a clumsy Shannon Cole challenge gave Cruz Azul a penalty with just two minutes left which skipper Gerardo Torrado converted to send the match to extra-time.
Topor-Stanley, wrongly booked in the second half in a case of mistaken identity, was then shown a second yellow in extra-time leaving Tony Popovic’s side to try and hold on for penalties with just nine men.
But they couldn’t do it as Mariano Pavone and another penalty from Torrado icing the result for the Mexicans as they moved into the last four along with Oceania’s Auckland City, who upset ES Setif earlier in the day.
WHAT THEY SAID
“(Topor-Stanley’s red card) was a case of mistaken identity. Seyi (Adeleke) did get a yellow but the referee wrote down Nikolai’s number, so he got a second. That’s how it was explained to us.” - Wanderers boss Tony Popovic
1-0 La Rocca (65’) – Seyi Adeleke’s cross was cleared out by the Cruz Azul defence, with the ball trickling into the path of La Rocca. The Italian let fly with a rasping low drive from 35 yards out which fizzed off the wet surface and into the bottom corner of the net.
1-1 Torrado (89’) – Shannon Cole’s clumsy challenge on Marco Fabian saw Cruz Azul awarded a penalty, with skipper Torrado sending Ante Covic the wrong way and slotting it home.
1-2 Pavone (108’) – The wet conditions meant a cross from the right caused confusion in the Wanderers box, the ball finding its way to Ismael Valadez who turned and shot from close range. Covic produced a superb save but couldn’t hold it, giving Pavone a simple tap in.
1-3 Torrado (118’) – Vela surged into the box and his attempted cross struck the arm of a sliding Mateo Poljak, with the referee awarding another penalty. Torrado again made no mistake, slamming it just to Covic’s right to settle the contest.
The Wanderers were a couple of minutes away from facing Real Madrid when Cole failed to see Fabian coming in behind him, mis-timing his challenge and bringing the attacker down for a penalty. Torrado converted clinically to level the scores and send the match to a grueling extra-time period with the Wanderers where the Wanderers had to try and find a winner – or hold on for a penalty shoot-out - with only 10 – and then nine – men.
La Rocca’s stunning strike lit up an otherwise gloomy contest which wasn’t helped by the shocking conditions. There didn’t appear much danger to the Cruz Azul goal when the ball fell into La Rocca’s path 35 yards from goal. But the Italian produce a strike of power and precision which skidded off the greasy surface and Corona couldn’t keep it out. It was a goal that was worthy of winning any game, let alone one which sets up a dream tie with Real Madrid.
Already down to 10 men with the second half dismissal of Matthew Spiranovic, the Wanderers’ cause was made even harder when skipper Nikolai Topor-Stanley was sent off in extra-time. Topor-Stanley was wrongly given a yellow card earlier in the match, despite not committing a foul, and it cost him in extra-time when he was booked again for dragging down Mariano Pavone. With only nine men for most of the extra-time period, it was always going to be a mission impossible.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
How this match was allowed to go ahead is astonishing. The driving rain and waterlogged pitch made it almost impossible to play football, turning the contest into a lottery. A number of times passes weren’t finding their mark or players couldn’t dribble the ball without it getting stuck in one of the many puddles that had formed on the surface. FIFA were just lucky no players suffered a serious injury in the deplorable conditions.
THE FINAL WORD
Having been just minutes away from a semi-final berth it will be hard for the Wanderers to pick themselves up both physically and mentally for a fifth-placed play-off match against African champions ES Setif on Thursday. Instead it’s Cruz Azul who will go on to face Spanish giants Real Madrid in the last four on Wednesday (AEDT).
Western Sydney Wanderers FC: Covic (GK), Hamill, Spiranovic, Topor-Stanley, Adeleke (Golec 72’), La Rocca, Poljak, Castelen (Cole 78’), Bridge, Rukavytsya, Haliti (Juric 67’)
Cruz Azul: Corona, Flores, Maza, Dominguez, Pinto (Valadez 78’), Baez (Rojas 69’), Torrado, Gimenez, Formica, Fabien (Vela 106’), Pavone
Scorers: La Rocca 65’, Torrado 89’, 118’, Pavone 108’
Red cards: Spiranovic 74’, Topor-Stanley 102’
Yellow cards: Spiranovic 31’, Gimenez 37’, Topor-Stanley 53’, Hamill 73’, Spiranovic 74’, La Rocca 84’, Topor-Stanley 102’
Conditions: 16C, Wet