Western Sydney Wanderers are in danger of exiting the Champions League in the Round of 16 after losing 3-1 to Sanfrecce Hiroshima at the Big Arch overnight. Last season, Central Coast Mariners lost its first leg to eventual champions Guangzhou Evergrande before bowing out with a blowout loss in the second leg. The Wanderers did not get the three weeks the Mariners enjoyed between winning the A-League championship and facing Evergrande, however. Western Sydney lost its second straight Grand Final on Sunday May 4 and lost in Hiroshima on Wednesday May 7.
Sanfrecce, which split its two games against A-League competition in the group stage (losing 2-1 in Gosford before defeating the Mariners 1-0 in Hiroshima), scored the game's first two goals. Naoki Ishihara tallied both in the second half with the first coming in the 51st minute and the second in the 65th. Tomi Juric pulled one back for the Wanderers with his 78th minute penalty but Kosei Shibasaki restored Sanfrecce's two-goal lead when he scored in the 91st minute.
That the difference is two goals instead of just one makes qualification to the quarterfinals a much more difficult prospect. A full week's rest will be helpful, as will going back home to the boisterous crowd at Parramatta Stadium, but the Wanderers will need to win by three goals if they hope to avoid penalties. Western Sydney have comprehensively beaten a Champions League foe already in this campaign, winning 5-0 against Guizhou Renhe on Match Day 6 to claim Group H's top spot. Otherwise, the club recorded only a single three-goal victory in twenty-seven league matches, which came on March 23 against woebegone Perth Glory.
With the A-League season now complete, the Wanderers can focus fully on the second leg while Sanfrecce play host to Shimizu S-Pulse on Saturday May 10 in the J-League. Hiroshima are currently in fourth place in Japan's top flight while S-Pulse are in tenth. While Sanfrecce won't want to lose too much ground in the hunt for earning automatic qualification for next year's Champions League, a midseason game against mid-table opposition could be an opportunity to rest key players and claim a spot in the quarterfinals, which do not take place until August.
As Youssouf Hersi, Shinji Ono and others prepare to depart Western Sydney, next week's second leg could be the final outing for the current group of Wanderers that claimed the premiership in its debut season of 2012/13 and competed in the Grand Final in each of its first two years of existence. No doubt the atmosphere at Parramatta will be intense as another successful season potentially comes to a close.
HIR Ishihara 51'
HIR Ishihara 65'
WSW Juric (pen) 78'
HIR Shibasaki 91'
Sanfrecce Hiroshima: Hayashi; Mizumoto, Chiba, Shiotani; Aoyama, Takahagi (Sato 86'), Yamagishi (Hwang 80'), Kashiwa (Mikic 80'), Notsuda, Shibasaki; Ishihara
Unused substitutes: Masuda, Morisaki, Park, Kawabe
Western Sydney Wanderers: Covic; Cole (Hersi 64'), Beauchamp, Spiranovic, Golec; Mullen, Heffernan, Trifiro (La Rocca 75'); Haliti, Juric, Appiah (Ono 64')
Unused substitutes: Tyson, Polenz, Santalab, Perkatis