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The best season of the A-League to date will conclude in the best possible fashion, as table toppers Western Sydney prepare to take on second place finishers Central Coast in the championship decider.
Far from being overawed by the occasion, the Wanderers seemed to relish running out in front of a sell-out crowd on Friday night, taking the game to defending champions Brisbane Roar from the outset.
They dominated the first half and took a deserved lead through a Dino Kresinger back-heel, as the hulking striker stunned everyone by flicking Mark Bridge’s drilled effort straight into the back of the net.
Whether Kresinger remains in coach Tony Popovic’s long-term plans remains to be seen, but the burly Croatian has become a cult hero in Parramatta and it was wonderful to see the veteran striker celebrate his unexpected goal in front of so many fans.
As good as Kresinger’s goal was, it wasn’t quite of the same calibre as Shinji Ono’s deft chip to settle the match.
It was interesting to see Alessandro Del Piero pick up the Football Media Association’s player of the year award, because as pivotal as Del Piero was for Sydney FC – who at times resembled a one-man team – the Italian was nevertheless unable to fire his side into the finals.
Surely that’s the major difference between Ono and Del Piero’s contributions this season? When the Italian was doing the media rounds to offer his thoughts on the season, Ono was on the field letting his football do the talking for him.
He surely deserves to come into contention for tonight’s Johnny Warren Medal award, though most of the money is on Del Piero to collect the major prize.
Daniel McBreen is another who deserves some recognition for his contributions this season, and his left-foot rocket to settle yesterday’s semi-final against Melbourne Victory was perhaps his finest goal of the season.
It’s fitting the Mariners have made it through – although a Wanderers versus Victory grand final would have made for incredible spectacle – because the Gosford side were perhaps the most consistent outfit in the league this season.
They certainly weren’t a markedly inferior side to the Wanderers, so the grand final will be a genuine decider of who the best team in the A-League truly is.
Sadly neither Wanderers winger Youssouf Hersi nor Mariners midfielder Nick Montgomery will feature, after the pair collected red cards in their respective semi-final victories.
The Wanderers have never lost with Hersi in the side, so perhaps that’s somewhat of an omen going into the biggest game in Western Sydney’s short history.
Their fans will pack into the home of city rivals Sydney FC at Moore Park, with Allianz Stadium set to be a sea of red and black on the big day.
It’s an ideal scnenario for Football Federation Australia, who can rest easy knowing a sell-out crowd of more than 40,000 fans will descend on the venue.
That will of course include a large contingent of Mariners supporters, though they’ll be heavily outnumbered at the decider.
And Central Coast will be looking to end the Wanderers’ so-called ‘fairytale’ run, as the two best sides in the A-League prepare to go head to head in a dream finale to what has been an astonishing season of football.