The business end of the A-League starts now

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    Sydney FC end Brisbane Roar's unbeaten streak (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

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    Finals football is one of the best things about the A-League. This season, six teams go in with a genuine chance of winning the competition, including one from regional troublemakers New Zealand.

    I stood in The Cove last Sunday to watch Sydney FC’s do-or-die 3-2 win over the Newcastle Jets, and like everyone else, I was thoroughly enthralled.

    The game had everything: a super opening goal from Bruno Cazarine, a brilliantly worked equaliser set up by boo boy Ruben Zadkovich, a double from local youngster Joel Chianese and late drama courtesy of Jobe Wheelhouse’s scrappy header.

    None of which would have mattered if we didn’t have finals football.

    That said, hopefully we’re past debating the legitimacy of finals football after last season’s epic series.

    The two main protagonists – Brisbane Roar and Central Coast – deservedly go into the current finals series as obvious favourites to cause maximum damage once again.

    But it’s the presence of Perth, Wellington, Sydney FC and Melbourne Heart which gives the 2011-12 finals series such an unpredictable feel.

    Who would have guessed at the start of the season the Heart would be the premier team in Melbourne?

    It’s not that outgoing coach John van’t Schip doesn’t possess an impressive squad – led ably by fan-favourite Fred – it’s just that intracity rivals Victory were expected to fire far more than they did with Socceroos star Harry Kewell at the helm.

    Instead it’s the Heart who’ve marched on to face a Shane Smeltz-inspired Perth Glory and surely the winner of that game is in with a red-hot chance of reaching the preliminary final.

    They will of course face either Wellington or Sydney FC in a winner-takes-all semi, but with Sydney FC disrupted by goalkeeper Liam Reddy’s ousting for drinking alcohol on the flight to New Zealand and Wellington one of the more erratic sides in the league, I wouldn’t bet against either the Glory or Heart going at least one game further.

    That would no doubt come as a relief to the Asian Football Confederation and arguably Football Federation Australia, with the Phoenix not ratified to take part in the AFC Champions League.

    They should be, quite frankly, and the sooner the AFC incorporates Oceania into a reconfigured East Asia and does away with its myopic geographical protectionism, the better football in the region will be for all concerned.

    At any rate, I think the Phoenix winning the A-League is a long shot at best, even if it’s tough to discount them given veteran import Paul Ifill’s mercurial presence.

    Just as intriguing is the burgeoning rivalry between the the Mariners and Roar, with the Gosford side pipping the reigning champions to the post for the Premiers’ Plate this season.

    Whether that’s reflective of the A-League’s best team is something we’ll be better able to judge come the evening of April 22, however the two sides have clearly been the most consistent teams throughout the regular campaign.

    And hopefully their exploits on the pitch given us plenty to talk about given what’s going on off it.

    Yesterday the FFA announced a new Joint A-League Strategic Committee with A-League clubs, and while it’s noteworthy to see the game’s governing body react to several weeks of Clive Palmer-instigated off-field drama, it’s also nice to be able to discuss what’s happening on the pitch.

    Because hopefully what’s about to happen is another enthralling finals series.

    And if the lead-up to tonight’s clash between the Phoenix and Sydney FC in Wellington is anything to go by that’s precisely what we’re in for, with the business end of the A-League season about to kick off in earnest.

    Mike Tuckerman
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.

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    The Crowd Says (11)

    • March 30th 2012 @ 9:05am
      Bondy said | March 30th 2012 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      These games are to close to call most A League clubs this season have played their best football away so it will make for a interesting weekend .
      I’d like to know what this Strategic Committee will do .

      • March 30th 2012 @ 11:59am
        pete4 said | March 30th 2012 @ 11:59am | ! Report

        “The scope of matters to be considered by the JALSC will include:

        • Competition structure and policy including match schedule, season window and number of rounds
        • Revenue growth maximisation strategies and policies and strengthening the capital base of the game
        • Benchmarking analysis and financial regulation policy
        • Player contract regulations
        • Collective Bargaining Agreement framework
        • Disciplinary regulations & Grievance procedures
        • Community engagement strategy”

        http://www.footballaustralia.com.au/news-display/joint-statement–ffa-and-hyundai-a-league-clubs/46589

        • March 30th 2012 @ 12:15pm
          PeterK said | March 30th 2012 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

          Wow! Clearly I’ll have to read more about this Committee.

          I reckon most of those seven points need a whole committee for each one!

    • March 30th 2012 @ 12:12pm
      PeterK said | March 30th 2012 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

      Furthering your thought of incorporating Oceania into the AFC, perhaps there’s something to be said for at the same time splitting AFC into East and West — “EAP: East Asia Pacific” and what might we call the western lot? (Perhaps just “West Asia”?)

      There will always be the problem of that lovely lot of people in the Pacific Islands, whose teams are not exceptionally strong, but who must not be ignored.

      • March 30th 2012 @ 2:38pm
        Axelv said | March 30th 2012 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

        What’s the point in splitting Asia? That’ll put the football of the middle east backwards.

        What’s wrong with Asia as it is now?

        If West Asia is too far, so is Australia. As far as distance goes, between Japan, Australia and the Gulf, we are all a similar distance apart like a triangle.

        • March 30th 2012 @ 2:47pm
          Ian Whitchurch said | March 30th 2012 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

          Axelv,

          The problem is you’ve got very few compeitive sides in West Asia – the gulf leagues are of reasonable quality, but the money is so good that very good players there dont need to go elsewhere to improve their game, the way they do from feeder leagues such as the A-League, the K-League and the J-League.

          • March 30th 2012 @ 3:00pm
            Axelv said | March 30th 2012 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

            They learn more from playing nations like Japan, Korea, Australia etc. If West Asia were playing against themselves and automatically getting 2 World Cup Qualifying spots, they would never learn and would reduce the quality of their region and the World Cup. There is better quality football and money for Asia if it’s united. Distance is no obstacle.

            Also I disagree, I think that Iran, Iraq and Uzbekistan are very competitive sides, Saudi Arabia used to be one but they’ve fallen quite far.

            Qatar, Jordan and Oman are also full of surprises.

    • March 30th 2012 @ 3:50pm
      Axelv said | March 30th 2012 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

      If Sydney win, and Heart win, Sydney have a home final!

      To be fair though I think Wellington and Perth will win. As for Central Coast vs Brisbane, I feel Brisbane have the mental edge, but CCM are good enough to win, I honestly can’t pick one, 50/50.

    • March 30th 2012 @ 11:26pm
      Brock said | March 30th 2012 @ 11:26pm | ! Report

      I personally really enjoy the fact that the A-league has a finals system. But I am honestly curious if I am the only one who finds the current system ridiculous. Ok so 1 vs 2 home and away with the aggregate winner advancing to the final, whilst 3 vs 6 and 4 vs 5 in elimination finals with the winners of each game then facing each other in another elimination final in order that the winner of that game then can face the loser of 1 vs 2 in another elimination final to make it to the grand final. Right got that so how is the casual observer supposed to understand what’s going on?

      I believe the situation to be something of a farce and it damages the integrity and credibility of the A-league.

      • March 31st 2012 @ 12:24am
        Axelv said | March 31st 2012 @ 12:24am | ! Report

        No easier to understand than AFL of 1vs4 2vs3, winner of those get a rest, the loser has to play in a knockout game the week after, 5vs8 and 6vs7, both elimination followed by losers of 1vs4 and 2vs3 playing the losers of 6vs7 and 5vs8. Then it’s winner of 1vs4 and 2vs3 against the winners of the other 2 games, and the winner of those reach the Grand Final, how is that even simpler? Lol People just need to learn the format.

        Since day dot in the A-League, the winner of the top 2 over home and away legs have always had direct passage to hosting the Grand Final, the rest play knockout against each other until the winner of the rest will face a knockout game away to the loser of the top 2, then winner of that joins the Grand Final, very simple.

        It’s not difficult at all for the casual observer.

      • Roar Guru

        March 31st 2012 @ 1:05am
        The Cattery said | March 31st 2012 @ 1:05am | ! Report

        I think it’s a really good finals system. 1 and 2 earn the right to have a home and away shot at going directly into the grand final, loser ends up hosting the last team standing of the other four.

        The only downside is that you often get the top 2 playing each other 3 times in space of four weeks.

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