Sydney FC have taken a sizeable step towards a maiden Asian Champions League quarter-final berth after securing a 1-1 draw with Shandong Luneng in China.
Though Brazilian star Diego Tardelli's equaliser denied the Sky Blues victory at Jinan Olympic Sports Centre Stadium on Wednesday night, David Carney banked a precious away goal that will bode well for Graham Arnold's side when they host Shandong in next week's second round-of-16 leg.
Sydney were pushed to the limit in a second half dominated by their opponents, but held firm despite Shandong's 16 shots to their visitors' seven.
The Mano Menezes-coached outfit also had the early possession and nearly gained the upper hand in the seventh minute when villain-turned-hero Vedran Janjetovic upended Wu Xinghan in the area for a penalty.
But the Sky Blues custodian atoned quickly, avoiding disaster with a neat diving save to deny Argentine playmaker Walter Montillo from the spot.
Sydney settled, and the momentum shifted.
Key to the organisation was midfielder Milos Dimitrijevic, whose through ball set up his team's valuable goal.
The Serbian's pass from the centre set Riley Woodcock off down to the left byline, where the 20-year-old hooked an impressive cross to Carney at the back post for a simple but priceless header past Shandong goalkeeper Wang Dalei.
At the break Sydney would have been tipped to continue climbing the scoreboard but Shandong, struggling though they are in the Chinese Super League, returned in the second half breathing fire.
As the onslaught increased, Rhyan Grant and Matt Jurman ran ragged to hold onto Sydney's lead and it was pure luck when Shandong captain Li Wei hit the crossbar with a thundering 30-metre strike that had Janjetovic easily beaten.
When the ever-dangerous Tardelli stabbed in from close range on 56 minutes it had been well coming.
Arnold tried for some fresh spark as both sides fatigued, subbing off striker Matt Simon for Shane Smeltz and replacing David Carney for Andrew Hoole.
But it yielded minimal real chances, Sydney simply refused to surrender.