In a match reminiscent of the 1974 FIFA World Cup Germany™ semi-final between the hosts and Poland due to the deluge of rain experienced at the Complexe Sportif Prince Moulay Abdellah in Rabat, Cruz Azul saw off nine-man Western Sydney Wanderers 3-1 in extra-time. The win sets the CONCACAF Champions League winners up against Real Madrid in the semi-finals on Tuesday.
Early chances were exchanged in the opening minutes as the two sides worked out the intricacies of the wet pitch as Matthew Spiranovic’s flashing header was well saved by Cruz Azul goalkeeper Jose Corona 11 minutes in.
Marco Fabian nearly put Cruz Azul ahead in the with a spectacular strike from 25 yards out but his dipping effort just skipped wide of the post, much to the relief of Wanderers keeper Ante Covic. Fabian continued to look dangerous throughout the first half, the Mexican international volleying high after connecting on Xavier Baez’s well placed cross.
Despite an equal share of possession throughout the first 45 minutes, the CONCACAF champions controlled most of the play but Cruz Azul had nothing to show for their chances as they went back to the dressing room goalless. The Mexican club would later rue their missed opportunities 20 minutes after the restart.
Cruz Azul were controlling matters in the adverse conditions throughout the second half but the AFC Champions League winners remained alert and capitalised on one of the only chances they saw in the final 45 minutes. A poor clearance allowed Iacopo La Rocca a clean look on goal and the Italian midfielder took an ambitious strike from 25 yards out, which settled into the far corner to give Wanderers the lead against the run of play.
Spiranovic sent off
Ten minutes later Spiranovic received his second yellow card after handling the ball just outside of Western Sydney’s penalty area, setting up a very tense quarter-of-an-hour. The ensuing free kick launched a two-minute assault on Wanderers’ goal, but Covic did extremely well to keep out three separate shots, all of which looked destined to find the back of the net.
Covic’s area remained constantly under siege but the No1 held firm until an 89th-minute penalty, converted by Cruz Azul captain Gerardo Torrado, levelled matters to force extra time. Things went from bad to worse for Wanderers in the extra 30 minutes when captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley was shown his second yellow, giving Cruz Azul a two-man advantage.
After their continued onslaught, Cruz Azul found their second goal in the 108th minute. Christian Gimenez’s shot was saved by Covic but the Wanderers keeper gave up a rebound, which fell to Hugo Pavone who only needed to pass the ball into an empty net.
A defeated-looking Western Sydney side tried to come up with an equaliser, but they instead went down 3-1 after Mateo Poljak handled the ball inside his own area and Torrado buried another penalty past Covic. The loss sends Wanderers into the Match for Fifth Place against ES Setif, while Cruz Azul will begin their preparations for a headline-grabbing semi-final against Real Madrid.