Western Sydney’s remarkable victory over Asian juggernauts Guangzhou Evergrande has been overshadowed by a furious tirade from World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi.
The Wanderers overcame what seemed insurmountable odds to conquer one of Asia’s richest and most successful clubs 1-0 in the first leg of their Asian Champions League quarter-final at Parramatta Stadium on Wednesday.
But the match ended in controversy as two Evergrande players were sent off in the dying stages sparking an uncharacteristically irate Lippi to rush the field.
A lone strike from Tomi Juric on the hour was enough to seal victory as the Wanderers managed to withstand all the pace and power of the ACL title holders and three-time Chinese Super League champions, who boast a glut of internationals in their ranks.
But the biggest talking point remained the bizarre final stages which now sets up an intriguing second instalment in China next Wednesday.
With Guangzhou still desperately seeking an equaliser as the clock wound down tensions began to fray with Zeng Linpeng sent off for elbowing Wanderers striker Mark Bridge in the 88th minute.
But the match descended into chaos moments later when Gao Lin appeared unfairly red carded in the 90th minute for a foul on Vitor Saba, who was making his Wanderers debut.
Lippi couldn’t contain his anger, taking to the field to confront the referee.
Post match the Italian was somewhat in damage control as he launched into an explanation of his actions, taking no questions from media before storming out of the press conference.
“I’m not upset about the match that we lost,” he said through an interpreter.
“I know I wasn’t supposed to go on the field but you also watched the match and the two red cards. The first one I didn’t see very clearly but the second one was very close to me so I saw that it was not on purpose.
“I’ve been to all the biggest competitions like World Cups, Champions League and I know it was wrong to go in the field. But I just wanted to ask why he gave the second red card.
“After the match I went to see the referee to apologise and to ask more information about the decision but they didn’t let me speak to him.”
Lippi, who also appeared to manhandle Saba on the field, didn’t have much to say about the match itself except: “We have our second match at home so we’ll see what happens next Wednesday.”
Wanderers coach Tony Popovic thought if anything Lippi got off lightly for not being reprimanded for his antics.
“Coaches cannot go in the pitch. If I went on to the pitch I’m sure I would have ben sent off,” he said.
“We all disagree with the decisions that referees make and we voice our opinions from the sideline, but you don’t go on to the pitch and manhandle a player.
“So that I can’t accept.”
As for the result Popovic said he wasn’t at all surprised his side came away victors despite being in the A-League off season.
“We told you yesterday that we believe we can win. They’re not just words,” he said.
“I see the players every day in training so I can see the belief they have and the effort they’re putting in.
“Guangzhou were frustrated, they’re not used to losing games.
“So it was a fantastic win for us.”