31.10.2014 12:45 h

History beckons for Australia's Wanderers

Western Sydney Wanderers can complete a run that will go down in Asian football lore when they take a 1-0 lead into the AFC Champions League final second leg on Saturday.

Just two years after their formation, the tournament debutants from Sydney's unfashionable west stand on the brink of becoming Australia's first ever Asian club champions.

Victory over Saudi giants Al Hilal would be another shot in the arm for Australia's A-League, and a timely boost as the country prepares to host the Asian Cup in January.

Substitute Tomi Juric's 64th minute strike took the Wanderers halfway to heaven, although there is much work to do in what will be a cauldron atmosphere in Riyadh.

"We're very confident. I think maybe our performance in the first game wasn't the best but we still got a result out of it, so I think in the second game we can expect even more," midfielder Mateo Poljak told AFP on Friday.

"I think we can be more positive and be more organised, and maybe dangerous, in the opponents' half."

While the Wanderers topped the regular season table and reached the grand final in their inaugural A-League season in 2012/13, few would have expected them to go so far in their maiden AFC Champions League campaign.

But Wanderers players say their coach, ex-Crystal Palace player Tony Popovic, has been key to their success.

"He had a vision from the very start," said winger Shannon Cole.

Having seen off Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the round of 16, defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande in the last eight and last year's runners-up FC Seoul in the semi-finals, the Wanderers have earned their title shot.

However, the Wanderers were on the back foot for much of the final's first leg and they will have to pass another huge test in front of a partisan crowd of around 60,000 at the King Fahd International Stadium.

Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bought all the tickets to be distributed free to Saudi fans.

Only about a dozen Wanderers supporters will be in the stands but the Western Sydney players say that won't bother them.

"We know that back home we'll have the whole country behind us," defender Matthew Spiranovic told AFP.

"We are 90 minutes away from what is a piece of history for us," said striker Brendon Santalab, who dislocated his shoulder in the first final match but says he is recovering well.

"I'm not sure if I'll be starting but I'll be in contention to play, that's for sure."

One Al Hilal player will be trying to make his own piece of history. Midfielder Saud Khariri can become the first player to win three AFC Champions League winner's medals after helping Saudi rivals Al Ittihad to back-to-back victories in 2004 and 2005.

"This is my fourth final as I have already won two and lost one," said the 34-year-old, who also played for Al Ittihad in their 2-1 defeat by South Korea's Pohang Steelers in 2009.

"For my own ambition it would be a dream to win this cup again, and also for the club. They have been waiting a long time."

In Riyadh, the vast majority of fans will hope to see Al Hilal overturn the slender deficit and lift their first continental trophy since the Asian Cup Winners' Cup in 2002.