Victory faces its final hurdle

Geelong Advertiser, Saturday 17 February 2007, p. 58.

Having wrapped up the home and away league title and reached the grand final, Melbourne Victory has just one hurdle to jump to be crowned as the champion of the A-League.

On Sunday night it takes on Adelaide United in front of a sell-out crowd of well over 50,000 at Telstra Dome at 6 pm.

The match has all the makings of a classic as the two best teams of the season come together for the sixth time in the competition.

Way back in round one in August, Victory beat Adelaide United for the first time by two goals to nil, and an ecstatic Socceroo striker Archie Thompson yelled out, ‘We will win the league,’ after the game.

Two other league meetings saw Adelaide come out on top by one-nil at Telstra Dome in October and then the Victory won by three goals to one at the Hindmarsh Stadium in December.

Then it was on to the two-legged semi-final when the teams were locked in a scoreless draw at Hindmarsh and substitute James Robinson popped up for the decisive goal in injury time to put Victory into the grand final by two goals to one a fortnight ago.

So Victory has the edge, but past performance will count for little on Sunday night.

Both teams will be close to full strength, though Adelaide has full back Matthew Kemp suspended after collecting two yellow cards in the finals.

Star import, Bobby Petta, the former Celtic winger and midfielder Jason Spagnuolo are carrying injuries, though the latter should be available for selection.

Victory has concerns over Kristian Sarkies and Geelong’s Adrian Leijer who were in Taiwan with the Olyroos this week and will make a late decision on both players.

Only defender Daniel Piorkowski, who will not resume playing till next year, will certainly be missing from the home side’s strongest starting eleven.

The last time the team’s met Socceroo Travis Dodd’s early goal allowed Adelaide to play its counter-attacking game based on the probing of skipper Ross Aloisi and Brazilian imports Fernando and Diego.

But Victory has its own Brazilian magic in the hard working and slippery Fred and crowd-favourite Alessandro, whose unpredictable skills sometimes surprise himself as well as his team-mates.

The Victory’s strength is its midfield engine-room where skipper Kevin Muscat takes no prisoners and Scot Grant Brebner’s vision and passing is supplemented by Fred’s dynamism.

Up front Danny Allsopp, the league’s top scorer, partners Thompson, with Adrian Caceres adding width to the attack.

Victory banged in 41 goals in the regular season by far the most of any club, while the defence conceded only 20, one more than Sydney FC which was noted for its boring, defensive soccer under recently sacked coach Terry Butcher.

At the back Rodrigo Vargas, formerly of Green Gully, has stepped up to the A-League without a hiccup, using his experience to marshall Leijer, Simon Storey and Steve Pantelidis in front of him.

Keeper Michael Theoklitos has been outstanding this season and he and his opposite number Daniel Beltrame could be the key figures should the game go to penalty kicks as happened last week when Adelaide squeaked home over the Newcastle Jets.

Then there are the two coaches, who are chalk and cheese in personality and approach.

John Kosmina may have to coach from the stand after giving referee Matthew Breeze a spray last Sunday, but that will be something the ebullient South Australian will take in his stride.

By contrast Scot Ernie Merrick will be composed on the outside, relying on a season’s planning and preparation for just this match.

No jumping up and down for him, just discipline, sports science and self-control.

But he might finally crack a smile if the Victory comes out on top.

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