Santalab hails keeper Covic as world-class
Wanderers go into the second leg of the Asian Champions League final on the back of a superb defensive display after a 1-0 win at Wanderland last Saturday.
And Santalab had a message to Al-Hilal’s strike-force: Ante Covic is the best in the ACL.
“100% yes. He’s been outstanding throughout the whole competition," he told media.
“He showed in the first leg he was our rock.
“Some of his saves were world class. And I’m sure he’ll be outstanding again in the second leg.”
It’s all part of the mind games going into the crunch clash at the King Fahd Stadium on Saturday night in Riyadh (Sunday morning AEDT).
And those mind games began straight after the first leg with the Al-Hilal coach dismissing Wanderers’ chances in the second leg – despite the Hyundai A-League outfit holding a slender lead.
“The fact is we lost the game and I’m not happy about that,” said Laurentiu Reghecampf.
“But I’m sure the next game we’re going to win. The players are going to score the two goals to win the Cup.
“I think the goal was unlucky.
“In the second game we have the power and we’re going to change the result.”
But “Santa” was having none of the Romanian's crystal ball.
“Oh yeah, it’s great motivation for us. It’s his tactics to try put us off a bit.
"We won’t fall for that,” he said, echoing coach Tony Popovic’s comments about the Guangzhou experience in August’s ACL quarter finals.
“We’ve been through all of that before and we’re experienced in that situation after playing Guangzhou Evergrande.
“We played a few games mentally with them and we won that one again.”
Santalab’s fellow striker Labinot Haliti was in no doubt, though, of the importance of the game in his career.
“It’s the biggest. There’s no hiding it. They are a good team but so are we.”
Santalab added the feeling in the camp was of ‘job half done’.
“We’re halfway there. Celebrations were very limited after the first leg. And we know what we’re up for. The job’s not done.
“They’re a great side. Great individuals and their fitness is fantastic. They’re quick and mobile.
“We kept our structure well in leg one and I felt we could’ve kept the ball a little better.
“We’ve worked on things at training to improve in the second leg.
“And we know all the fans will be focused on the TV back home in Australia on Sunday morning."