Al Hilal thunder silenced in Saudi stadium

Riyadh (AFP) - A sound like thunder rumbled through King Fahd International Stadium as close to 67,000 Al Hilal fans welcomed their heroes to the pitch on Saturday night.

Somewhere among that crowd, in the VIP area, were 12 Australians who had travelled to support their own stars, the Western Sydney Wanderers, in a bid to make history.

The Wanderers fans had vowed to sing their hearts out, but all that could be heard were shouts of "Hilal", as young Saudi men punched the air hoping their team, Asia's most decorated side, could win the AFC Champions League final second leg.

The Wanderers, a club formed just two years ago, took a 1-0 lead into the match, aiming to become Australia's first ever Asian club champions.

In ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia where there are no nightclubs or cinemas, alcohol is banned and the sexes are strictly segregated, football is one of the few sources of entertainment.

The stadium was packed to capacity with Saudi fans, all male, squeezed together and perched on railings.

Traffic police announced four hours before the match that the stadium was full, and surrounding fields and parking lots had no more room.

Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal guaranteed a sellout by buying all the tickets, which were given out just before the match.

"No seats, no seats," a young man said outside the stadium with its white tented roof, formed in peaks like icing on a cake.

Police had sealed off roads for kilometres (miles) around the venue, which glowed white in the distance, but the fans still came with blue and white Hilal scarves hanging around their traditional thobes.

They crowded the gate, in hope.

A Saudi man took a reporter's arm and guided him through the crowd to the other side of the barricade.

Then he smiled, and turned back towards the throng.

Not only was the kingdom behind Al Hilal, even the foreign minister of Bahrain said in a Tweet: "All of us in the Gulf are Hilalis on Saturday".

The Wanderers supporters numbered about 100 when locally-based Australians complemented the 12, including one woman, who travelled from Sydney.

- The mood turned -

They hung a banner that read simply, "Western Sydney," which showed they were there even if their voices couldn't be heard.

Some of the Wanderers had expected a hostile environment, and they got one. Boos and green laser lights targeted them, particularly goalkeeper Ante Covic, named most valuable player of the match.

But when Al Hilal failed to score against Covic despite numerous chances, the mood started to turn.

Al Hilal fans hurled bottles and shoes -- a Middle Eastern insult -- over the heads of riot police and towards the players from whom they had expected so much.

A large Al Hilal banner collapsed, like Al Hilal's chances.

The match ended in a goalless draw, enough for the Wanderers to win the championship after their victory in the first leg of the final.

Wanderers ran off the bench, arms raised high in celebration, while one of their teammates just sat on the ground, his head in his hands.

Their supporters, who had travelled so far, shed tears.

History had been made, and the Al Hilal thunder silenced.

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