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Opinion

The A-League finally has a derby to rival Europe

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Expert
20th October, 2019
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Forget the Revierderby or Le Classique, next weekend the A-League will for once host one of the biggest derbies in world football at a sold-out Bankwest Stadium.

When Sydney FC defender Rhyan Grant angled a delightful finish over Stefan Marinovic to seal a 2-1 win against Wellington Phoenix at Leichhardt Oval last night, he didn’t just hand the Sky Blues their second win of the new campaign.

He also ensured that for the first time in a long time, the Sydney derby would boast a genuine competitive edge.

For too long now the derby has been a clash between the aristocrats from the east and the also-rans from the west.

But if the balance hasn’t been tipped in Western Sydney’s favour going into the 22nd A-League meeting between the two city rivals, the ledger looks at least to have been squared.

Because the Wanderers have a few things going their way this time around.

One is self-belief. They may have battled to a 2-1 win of their own over Melbourne Victory on Friday night, but they managed to get the job done.

It was the second week in a row the Wanderers have scrambled for a result, only this time Markus Babbel’s side looked by far the better side.

And Babbel deserves credit for assembling a squad that will clearly give the A-League a real shake this season.

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There was already a European feel to the first Sydney derby of the season, but it’s heightened by the presence of some top-class European talent.

When Eintracht Frankfurt made the short trip to Sinsheim to face regional rivals Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga in November 2015, Alexander Meier and Pirmin Schwegler each captained their respective sides.

Now the pair line up as teammates on the same side of the Sydney derby, and they do so against a German playmaker who knows a thing or two about big games.

It’s safe to say Alexander Baumjohann has never worried too much about following a conventional path.

Despite growing up as a Borussia Dortmund fan, he started his professional career at local rivals Schalke before making stops along the way at Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayern München, Kaiserslautern and Hertha Berlin in a peripatetic Bundesliga career.

And having been married to a Brazilian national for more than a decade, he put his fluent Portuguese to good use in stops at Brazilian clubs Coritiba and Vitoria as well.

But it’s at Bankwest Stadium where he’ll receive the hottest reception in a long while, since Baumjohann left the Wanderers at the end of last season to join Sydney FC.

And if the one-time German wunderkind wants to leave his mark on world football, he could do worse than step up and play a starring role in the derby.

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Alexander Baumjohann

(Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Not least because the Wanderers’ new injury replacement player Nicolai Müller looms as yet another German looking to set the A-League on fire.

When it rains, it pours in Australian football. After fretting all winter about the potential quality of the league, suddenly we don’t know where to look.

But one place we should all be looking come kick-off on Saturday night is in the stands, because the best thing about the derby isn’t the two teams’ unbeaten records or plethora of big-name stars, it’s Bankwest Stadium itself.

For years A-League supporters have been crying out for a custom-built stadium that puts fans right on top of the action. Now we’ve got one.

And if you haven’t got your tickets already, I’d be moving heaven and earth to try and snap some up.

This will be the biggest derby in years.

And if I were Steve Corica, I’d be decidedly nervous about the potential outcome.

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The drums are beating across Sydney. Two wins from two is a decent start, but it won’t matter to either side if they lose the one that counts.