Western Sydney Wanderers weathered an alleged orchestrated disruption campaign including car crashes and lasers before upsetting Chinese holders Guangzhou Evergrande in the AFC Champions League, players and media said.
Wanderers players said they were woken by people knocking on their doors and ringing their hotel phones throughout the night before the match in southern China.
Despite the incidents, the Wanderers sent the deep-pocketed champions and tournament favourites crashing out on away goals over their two-legged quarter-final, in one of the competition’s great shocks.
Players said the Wanderers were involved in two traffic accidents on the way to Guangzhou’s Tianhe stadium.
“Someone purposely swerved in front of the bus, slammed the brakes on and the bus hit them and then another bus hit us from behind,” defender Shannon Cole said.
“Then we had a back-up bus and five minutes later, another accident.
“They did everything possible. At the ground, hundreds of bottles being hurled at us. But we got there in plenty of time – the coaching staff planned it very well.
“There’s passion and there’s stupidity. I mean, you would think with such a big club the fans would have faith in their players to do the job, but they felt like they would take matters into their own hands.
“Whether they were pushed or encouraged by people, who knows.”
Australian newspapers said during the match Wanderers players had laser beams shone into their eyes from home fans, while bottles were also thrown from the stands.
“Everything was against us. We’re in our pre-season, they’re well into their season, the financial statistics speak for themselves,” goalkeeper Ante Covic said.
“Then coming over here and having people running the hallways, banging on our doors and trying to keep us up, having a bus crash on the way there.
“All this in my opinion is quite dodgy. But I think all that just spurred us on.”
Teammate Brendan Hamill said the banging on the doors was so loud it sounded like “thunder.”
There was no immediate comment on the allegations from the Guangzhou Evergrande, and local media did not report any disruption at the match.
Guangzhou won Wednesday’s second leg 2-1 but the Wanderers reached the semis on away goals following their 1-0 victory in Sydney last week.
Guangzhou coach Marcello Lippi received a touchline ban after storming onto the pitch in Sydney to complain about two late red cards.
On the Wanderers’ arrival in Guangzhou, home fans at the airport held up placards warning players against diving, in reference to the incidents in Sydney.
The result was particularly surprising given Guangzhou’s exalted financial status compared with the Wanderers, a club which is only two years old and has a salary cap of Aus$2.5 million ($2.34 million).
“The wealthiest club in Asia will cry poor and feel robbed but ultimately they were let down by themselves over the course of a tie where everything conspired against them,” the Sydney Morning Herald said.
“They are the reigning Asian champions who are accustomed to winning, yet here they stumbled against a team built on a fraction of their budget, a team that didn’t exist when this incredible run began.”