He was a player who was thrilling to watch when on form.
Okay, it is time to sort the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys and an A-League champion from three pretenders.
Most feel Perth Glory will get their hands on a rather handsome looking toilet seat next weekend, but first they need to wrestle their way past an Adelaide United side that has been in excellent recent form.
Sydney FC failed to hunt the Glory down over the course of a long season despite playing some wonderful football along the way. Their path to the big dance is impeded by the old enemy, Melbourne Victory.
With the stars present in camp Muscat, Victory appear most likely to produce that special performance on that one special day and threaten Perth. They have form. Could Adelaide throw the proverbial spanner into the A-League works with a stunning win against the premiers plate winners or will Sydney FC exorcise the demons of 2017-18 and earn a ticket to the grand final?
With the roar of the crowd holding what appears to be an unassailable lead in the Roar tipping, these matches become less about the numbers and more about the drama. Here is the way the panel sees the penultimate weekend of A-League football unfolding.
Be sure to have a say in all the action by inserting your tips into the sheet below.
Shut the gates because the horse bolted and Perth Glory should romp into the grand final at a packed HBF Park. They’ve been preparing for this night since January, and Tony Popovic is not the sort of coach to let an opportunity like this slip. Adelaide will give them a run for their money, but it’s hard to see anything but a comfortable Glory victory and the home side booking a decider at Optus Stadium the following weekend.
The Big Blue is a much tougher game to predict, not least because Victory beat Sydney FC twice during the regular season. There’s not a lot to separate these two sides, and the week off might not have done Sydney FC many favours, even if they were active in the AFC Champions League midweek. I’ll tip the Sky Blues to sneak home in a classic – and possibly extra-time – but not with any real conviction given Victory’s impressive win over Wellington Phoenix last weekend.
As much as an Adelaide win would be the stuff of fairytales and a great achievement by Marco Kurz’s men, it is hard to see it unfolding. The Reds have struggled for goals all season and – here’s a statistic for you – didn’t find the net against Perth in their three encounters during home-and-away play.
Tony Popovic will once again rely on his disciplined and committed defence. It was his main task when he took the role as manager and he has turned a previously leaky Glory into a solid unit at the back. They are also pretty handy up front and will again rely on the creativity of Diego Castro and Chris Ikonomidis to spark their play in the front third.
There are some injury concerns around Neil Kilkenny, and that is a worry for the home side, yet with Andy Keogh, Jason Davidson and Ivan Franjic lurking, the Glory have all the weapons they need to beat Adelaide.
The Reds will be looking to Baba Diawara and George Blackwood to offer support to Craig Goodwin up front and find a way through the Glory defence. Also solid at the back with just 32 goals conceded against them all season, Adelaide will enter this match not without a hope.
Whether they are able to find the net enough times to defeat such a potent A-League force as Perth is another thing, and the Glory appear likely to host Australian football’s biggest match in a week’s time.
Both Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory played Asian Champions League matches during the week yet their stories are completely different. Sydney, still in the mathematical hunt for qualification to the knockout round, played a strong side yet fell 1-0 to Ulsan in Korea. They now have no chance of qualifying.
Melbourne Victory enjoyed a far better experience, resting the majority of their starting 11, with just three of their back four forced to do double duty this week.
All of that is a precursor to the Big Blue, the match many believe is the best clash in Australian domestic football. Siem de Jong, Alex’s Wilkinson, Alex Brosque and Rhyan Grant come back into the Sky Blues side and Adam le Fondre will be the weapon they hope to unleash on Sunday.
Sydney have been quietly efficient this season yet were beaten twice by Kevin Muscat’s men. The Victory appeared to have Sydney’s measure across the three games they played and should probably start favourites.
Melbourne have a lethal attacking combination in the form of Ola Toivonen, Keisuke Honda and Kosta Barbarouses, and therein lies the key to the match. Sydney’s ability to shut down the time, space and passing channels available to these men will be the key.
The match appears to be in the Victory’s hands. If they fire, they win, and fire they will to earn the right to play Perth in the A-League grand final.
Did you ever play in a semi-final as a kid? I have fond memories of running out through a homemade banner with parents waving crepe paper pom-poms from the sidelines. Long presumed dead relatives would come out of the woodwork and show a vague interest in football for once. It was great fun.
The fun in the A-League starts on Friday when Perth host Adelaide. Or should I say when Perth beat Adelaide. For all the Reds’ commitment against Melbourne City, it won’t count for anything against Tony Popovic’s men. Adelaide just don’t have the fire power.
Perth’s thrashing of Wellington was no fluke, and Diego Castro, Neil Kilkenny and Chris Ikonomidis will once again turn it on. The FFA would love to see Perth host a grand final and that wish should come true on Friday.
The Big Blue has all the hallmarks of an epic. Victory have one less day to recover from the Asian Champions League but they also had less at stake than Sydney. Ola Toivonen was superb last week but Adam le Fondre doesn’t suffer much in comparison. Kiesuke Honda gets cancelled out by Milos Ninkovic and so on across the park. It’s anyone’s game.
This match shapes up as a test of Steve Corica’s coaching credentials. Runners-up in the FFA Cup and finishing second in the league is hardly a poor return, but a big club like Sydney FC demands silverware and the championship is all that’s left.
I stumbled by picking an away team last week. Using discretion rather than valour, I’m tipping the parents in sky blue to be waving their pom-poms on Sunday.
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