1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on the opening weekend of the A-League finals. First and second from the regular season, Sydney FC and the Melbourne Victory, get the weekend off whilst Brisbane and the Victory’s city rivals host elimination finals.
Brisbane Roar v Western Sydney, Friday – Suncorp Stadium
After the regular season finished with a rollicking 5-4 triumph to Perth it is the two sides who played what was the match of the A-League finals (and probably the game of the competition) last season meeting in the first game of the finals.
Last year in the semi-final it finished 5-4 in favour of the Wanderers who had finished second in the regular season and earnt the week off. Brisbane saw off the Melbourne Victory in week one last year before falling to Tony Popovic’s side. In their win over the Victorians Thomas Broich scored a late winner and the German announced during the week that he would be leaving the club after this season. Broich’s departure is a shame for a consistent player who has been arguably the best in the history of the young competition but it also begs the question for a side like Brisbane who could have shifted Broich under the cap but used a $200,000 salary cap concession outside the cap (under a long-term player clause) to possible retain him.
Broich is at one end of his career but Wanderers’ midfielders Terry Antonis and Kearny Baccus are starting to get to their peak. 23 and 25 respectively, this season the duo have done a job to ensure the Wanderers midfield have looked better, particularly in the last six weeks plus they have relegated skipper Dimas to behind them in the pecking order. If this season isn’t their time, free of ACL constraints next season, could be an important period for the duo. Baccus recently turned down an overture from South Africa to turn out for Bafana Bafana in the hope of joining Antonis as a Socceroo in the future.
Across the games the two sides have played this season in November a Jumpei Kusukami equaliser after a first half goal to Brisbane striker Jamie Maclaren meant the game finished level before the first of the next two games, both played in the Queensland capital, saw another 1-1 draw. On that occasion Brisbane defender Corey Brown netted before Dimas equalised for the visitors. Goals to Brandon Borello and Socceroo Brett Holman helped Brisbane to a 2-1 triumph in January with Kusukami scoring again for the Wanderers. Whilst there hasn’t been much between the two sides in these contests it’s notable that Brisbane have not once been behind this season against the red and blacks.
Big game for: Antonis return here as do key players Jumpei Kusukami. Jonathan Aspropotamitis and Mitch Nichols. Whilst Brisbane get a Socceroo of their own back with Jade North back from injury.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Next up. Both sides are still alive in the Asian Champions League but the Roar have the better chance of progressing to the knockout phase so probably have more of an eye of their game against Thai side Muangthong United on Wednesday where they could move into second place in their group with a win. The Wanderers, on the other hand, are all but out of their group sitting last on three points and needing results to really go there way (more so than Brisbane) with their game in Japan against Urawa on Wednesday.
Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Perth Glory, Sunday – AAMI Park
20 goals between them in three games this season and even though there was two wins to Perth these teams finished level on 39 points with the + 5 goal difference deciding the venue for Sunday’s contest. A single mistake could send one side home this season but history in this fixture shows both sides could produce multiple howlers – even within the space of a few minutes.
Goals seem assured with the two sides combining for 102 goals this season (compared with 78 for the Roar and Wanderers in Friday night’s game) but it could be goal-keeping that proves the difference. Liam Reddy’s two penalty saves here earlier this season will be well remembered and the A-League journeyman could be the decisive character, especially is the defense get a period when they can limit the home side’s chances on goal. Dean Bouzanis will be busy between the sticks for the Victorians.
Frustrating the FFA Cup winners into errors will be the key for Perth who can release their attackers quickly through Diego Castro once they win the ball. Both sets of defences will need to be wary of conceding fouls near the edge of the areas as each side has some excellent exponents of the free kick. This was highlighted last weekend when Nebojsa Marinkovic helped Perth to one of their goals in the game at nib Stadium. Nicolas Colazo, as we noted last week, can also deliver a pinpoint corner and man-marking Tim Cahill to minimise this scoring option will be crucial for Kenny Lowe’s outfit.
Rhys Williams is the major addition to Perth’s match-day squad with the Socceroo having missed the goal-fest on Sunday. The Victorian side are likely to have the most settled line-up of the four clubs playing this weekend.
Big game for: Michael Valkanis. Assistant coach when John van’t Schip guided the home side to their FFA Cup victory earlier this season the one-cap Socceroo needs to win here to be assured of the role next season, and even that may not be enough. Unless they win the grand final the southern sky blues won’t be playing Asian Champions League after Brisbane finished third last weekend which is surely a minimum for the City Football Group-backed venture.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: 7pm games in the summer. After eschewing the 7pm timeslot at times during a brutally hot summer the A-League, all of a sudden, has decided they will yield to broadcasters and use this timeslot on Sunday evening. I’m in favour of this timeslot throughout the year for several reasons, chief amongst them player welfare and game quality, but why have games in this timeslot in late April but not early January? Truly baffling.
The betting bit – One serious one not
Despite every statistic pointing towards Brisbane (who have never lost a home A-League playoff game) it’s Wanderers to qualify ($2.30) and some further drama to go with the recent history is this fixture into a guest appearance off the bench from Yoshi on Sunday night.
This A-League finals preview first appeared on From the sideline of sport