Having enjoyed an astounding year so far, Western Sydney Wanderers bade farewell to their FIFA Club World Cup dreams after a 3-1 extra-time defeat at the hands of Mexican outfit Cruz Azul in the quarter-finals of Morocco 2014.
Defensive midfielder Iacopo La Rocca came close to propelling his team-mates to the semi-finals, in what would have been a historic achievement for an Australian club. However, Gerardo Torrado broke Sydneysider hearts with an equaliser for the CONCACAF representatives one minute from the end of normal time.
During the additional 30 minutes that followed, La Maquina scored two further goals to book a place in the last four, where they will face the mighty Real Madrid. “That late goal really hit us all hard. We were so close to making history and playing Madrid in the semis. Everyone was fantasising about taking on the UEFA Champions League holders,” La Rocca told FIFA.com.
Luck runs out
Up to then, it had seemed that Western Sydney Wanderers could do no wrong; the domestic and continental performances recorded by the newly formed club have been nothing short of remarkable. Indeed, since being founded in April 2012, the team has played in two A-League finals and became the first Australian side to capture the AFC Champions League title.
“We had a fair bit of luck along the way that allowed us to turn things in our favour. We’d never have become Asian champions had we not won the second leg (2-0) of our Round-of-16 tie with Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who’d won the first leg 3-1. But Lady Luck smiled on us in the return match and we went through to the quarter-finals,” said the combative Italian.
Against Cruz Azul, however, that good fortune finally deserted the New South Wales outfit. “We just didn’t get the rub of the green. That’s football – you have good days and bad days. We also have to admit to ourselves that we made a lot of mistakes during the match,” remarked La Rocca.
Mistakes were conspicuous by their absence during Wanderers’ practically flawless run to the 2014 Champions League final, as they saw off several traditional heavyweights – from Korea Republic, Japan, China and Saudi Arabia – of the Asian football scene, earning rave reviews across the continent in the process.
“It was like we were in a dream. Despite the club’s young age, we never lost faith in our abilities and won the Champions League in style. We’ve lost the last two A-League finals, but our heads didn’t go down because we knew that we were capable of better. And at the end of it all, we got our just rewards. I don’t think the loss to Cruz Azul is too disastrous, as we may end up coming back to the Club World Cup numerous times,” added the 30-year-old Rome native.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that La Rocca’s life has completely changed since his arrival in Sydney from Switzerland in 2012. One of the cornerstones of the new team, he has no regrets at all about swapping Swiss football for the A-League.
“I’m delighted that I decided to join the club in 2012. We’re a tight-knit group, just like a family, and we get to work under the best coach in Asia. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I’m really happy in Australia,” he said.
Up until signing for Wanderers, La Rocca had never experienced the pleasure of lifting a trophy. “My career has definitely moved up to another level since coming here. I didn’t think I’d be winning the Asian Champions League or playing in the Club World Cup.
“I’m very satisfied with what I’ve achieved. In Switzerland I played in the UEFA Europa League with Grasshoppers and in the Swiss Cup final with Bellinzona. I was hoping to be able to put ‘played against Real Madrid’ on my CV, but unfortunately it just wasn’t to be.”
Despite the disappointment endured in Rabat, La Rocca has never been the type to dwell on defeats, and is already looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead. “Following the match for fifth place, we’re going to try and climb back up the A-League table. After finishing runners-up the last two seasons, our goal is still to be crowned champions,” he concluded.