Western Sydney Wanderers captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley insists the A-League side do not fear any visitors to Parramatta Stadium ahead of Saturday’s AFC Champions League final first leg against Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.
Western Sydney are only the second A-League side to reach the AFC Champions League final after Adelaide United in 2008 having won their last five AFC Champions League games at home without conceding a goal.
And with Western Sydney faced with the daunting prospect of a trip to Riyadh’s King Fahd Stadium for the decisive second leg a week later, Topor-Stanley knows Tony Popovic’s continental debutants cannot afford a repeat of their 3-1 loss to Korea Republic’s Ulsan Hyundai in their group stage opener at the start of the campaign earlier in the year.
“The home leg against Al Hilal is massive, but we know that on our day we can beat anyone at home,” said former Perth Glory and Sydney FC defender Topor-Stanley, who joined Western Sydney in June 2012 ahead of the start of their maiden A-League campaign after three years with Newcastle Jets.
“We just need to concentrate on preparing to the best of our ability, doing the job at home and hopefully preventing them from scoring and get a good win.”
Western Sydney do have a reasonable form away from home in their first AFC Champions League campaign having won in China and Korea during the group stage.
Popovic’s side, though, have failed to claim victory on their travels in their last three continental outings after losing to Japan’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima and China’s Guangzhou Evergrande in the knockout stage before drawing the first leg of their semi-final with FC Seoul in Korea.
“There are differences in conditions and style of play between the east and the west,” added Topor-Stanley, who helped Western Sydney top the A-League regular season table in 2012/13 before Popovic’s side lost back-to-back Grand Finals.
“But we are fortunate to have had a 10-day pre-season tour to Dubai quite recently and we had a good taste of that and that is credit to the club committing the resources to allow us to improve.”
But despite those away defeats, Western Sydney have been able to dispose of J. League champions Hiroshima, defending champions Guangzhou and 2013 runners-up FC Seoul in the knockout stage having earlier impressively won their group ahead of Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale .
“We started in the group looking at things step-by-step, but our aim was to win that group. We lost the home game 3-1 and everyone wrote us off, but inside our dressing room we knew we had the quality to be successful and we did that and topped the group. And after each stage it has required a re-focus on each opposition to win those games,” said 29-year-old Topor-Stanley.
“Winning the home and away tie against Guangzhou when everyone in the world expected us to lose was massive. They are clearly a huge team in Asia with immense success and millions of dollars behind them and an infrastructure, so to put in two big performances and to go through was a massive feat for us. Those home and away games in that tie gave us massive belief.”
Western Sydney’s achievement matches that of 2008 finalists Adelaide, although Popovic’s side are eyeing a better result after the Reds lost 5-0 on aggregate to Japan’s Gamba Osaka.
“It was immensely satisfying for me personally, for us as a club and a big thing for Australian football to qualify for the final, but we are not happy just making the final and we want to be AFC Champions League winners,” says Topor-Stanley, who was recalled to the Australia squad after a six year break for October’s friendlies with United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
“We are an ambitious group and that is why we have got to the final and we will be looking to go one better having also made domestic finals already.
“It would be absolutely massive to win the AFC Champions League especially coming in from pre-season when a lot of people have written us off. It would be huge for our club and Australian football to get our name out there and show Australian football as Asia’s best, and we are looking forward to the challenge and we believe we can do it.
“We wouldn’t have got this far if we didn’t have that belief and that mentality.”