The Wanderers play in their second A-League Grand Final in only their second year of existence this weekend, sealing the 2013/14 season as an absolute success.
Awaiting them is the Brisbane Roar – this year’s Premiers – and a packed out Suncorp Stadium that will provide a worthy environment for the biggest match of the year.
Before giving full attention to the finale it’s worth remembering what the Wanderers did last week to get here.
The semi-final was as tense and rollicking as anticipated. Pirtek Stadium was packed and boisterous.
However a queasy feeling wasn’t too far below the surface. After all, the Mariners beat the Wanderers recently – enduring a torrid time on defence only to break and score against the run of play. And, importantly, it was the Mariners that defeated the Wanderers in the grand final last year, too. So, as the Wanderers began to dominate from the start the mood was positive but pensive. Goals are the only currency in knockout football.
In the 31st minute there was a huge release; a parried shot rebounded to Brendan Santalab who flashed it across goal where Youssouf Hersi tapped it in at close range.
Hersi threw himself into the heaving RBB and launched over the barrier into their waiting arms. But wait, was he offside? No flag from the assistant. Tony Popovic put his little black notebook into his pocket looking relieved.
As the match wore on the visitors became more desperate and threw numbers forward in greater abandon. That led to the game-sealer, coming in the most typical of Wanderers’ means – counter-attack. In the 81st minute the ball was turned over in midfield and fed to Hersi, who sent a long pass into the box and found Iacopo La Rocca to slot it home.
Elation! 2-0 and game over. The Wanderers were going to the Grand Final.
Along with Hersi, Aaron Mooy is likely moving on at the end of the season, which means he has also played his last part in an A-League match in front of the home crowd.
Shinji Ono received an amazing farewell a couple of weeks ago at Parramatta. He has truly been the perfect foundational marquee player for the Wanderers so deserves all the accolades. However Mooy and Hersi have certainly played large roles and deserve to be remembered fondly as well.
Looking forward to the big one, both sides have first team players under a cloud.
Mark Bridge, the scorer in a number of finals, is pushing it to participate this year. He injured his ankle during the second half of the semi-final and has been fighting to get fit enough to make the team.
Roar wing-forward Dimitri Petratos has been fighting hard to make the game as well after also sustaining an ankle injury, while Liam Miller limped off early in the semi-final and is in doubt.
Out of the three, Petratos and Miller are rated much better chances of taking the pitch on Sunday.
It’s unlikely the match will throw up any surprises in how it’s played.
The Wanderers have been at their best when they base their play on a high-energy defensive press and pounce on the counter, utilising space out wide. They will employ the most active possible version of that strategy.
They will rely on the likes of Mateo Poljak and Iacopo La Rocca to do mountains of work in the middle, clogging up passing lanes and supporting the pressing wing players when they’re further up the pitch.
The Roar are a more attacking-minded team in the sense that they try to play all over the opposition while keeping possession of the ball.
This match has the potential to be one of the great finals. Suncorp Stadium is a great theatre for sport. Wanderers fans will hope it writes a winning third act for the A-League including a Grand Final victory to cap off their second year.