The Hyundai A-League regular season is now complete with six teams making it through to the Finals Series.
The A-League is Australia’s premier football competition, sponsored by Hyundai, featuring nine teams from cities in Australia and one from New Zealand, Wellington Phoenix. Much like Major League Soccer in the United States, there is no relegation to lesser leagues. It was established in 2004 as a successor to the National Soccer League and the first ball kicked in anger was in August 2005. The A-League runs from October to May, competition is split into a 27-round regular season followed by the Finals Series involving the six highest-placed teams.
The winner of the regular season league is dubbed the ‘premier’ and wins the Premier’s Plate while the winner of the grand final is the season’s ‘champion’ and wins the A-League Trophy, which was designed to resemble a laurel wreath but is colloquially known as the ‘Toilet Seat’. As it stands the top two clubs in the regular season table gain qualification into the continental competition, the AFC Champions League.
The Finals Series began over the weekend with the Elimination Finals, with third place Melbourne City facing sixth place Brisbane Roar and fourth place Melbourne Victory meeting fifth place Adelaide United. Waiting in the wings are the A-League Premiers Sydney FC and runners-up Newcastle Jets.
MELBOURNE CITY 2 BRISBANE ROAR 0
All that effort, all that scratching and clawing over Western Sydney Wanderers to get into the Finals Series by Brisbane Roar was for nought as Johnny Aloisi admitted afterwards that his team; “didn’t do enough to even deserve to be close”.
Melbourne City are brimming with confidence and will be a tough challenge for their next opponents having eased past the Roar with little sweat spilled in the first occasion the Roar has failed to land a single shot on target in a game since November 2015.
Brisbane goalkeeper Jamie Young found himself behind a makeshift central defender due to injuries but still made a smart stop in the first half from Dario Vidosic and later Osama Malik failed to direct his free header on target from close range following free kick full of quality from Scott Jamieson. A moment of controversy saw the impressive youngster Daniel Arzani theatrically threw himself to the ground as Matt McKay looked to challenge, replays highlighting minimal contact and it’s fair to say McKay was non-too impressed with the tricky winger hoping to make a mark on Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk.
City pressed the accelerator pedal after the break, the deadlock broken on the hour as Jack Hingert dallied, Bruno Fornaroli stole and cut back into the path on the oncoming Stefan Mauk to finish high into the roof of the net above Young. Maccarone should have done better with a header from a corner before the game was put to bed by Nick Fitzgerald after getting on the end of a cross from Vidosic, who had done well to cut inside Roar’s tiring midfielder Thomas Kristensen. A sensational piece of play late in the day and Fitzgerald rightly should receive plaudits for the timing of his run.
Fahid Ben Khalfallah announced his retirement after the game via Fox Sports, while captain Matt McKay is hoping to play on next season.
MELBOURNE VICTORY 2 ADELAIDE UNITED 1
In contrast to the first Elimination Final, this even contest was high on quality especially in the opening 35 minutes and the entirety of the second half.
Adelaide United head coach Marco Kurz had a gameplan and it was a good one, frustrating and pressuring Victory in the early going with a very well organised 4-5-1 formation. German central midfielder Daniel Adlung was at his combative best alongside the mercurial Spanish anchorman Isaias. For European fans who wax lyrical about David Silva’s passing, Adelaide’s captain Isaias is not a far away and into the second half, it was his through passes time after time that had the Victory defence scrambling.
United held their shape and were rewarded almost on the hour as Isaias played a beautiful free-kick for Nikola Mileusnic to run onto. Victory defender Rhys Williams was running in treacle as Miluesnic flicked past goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas.
Melbourne Victory captain Carl Valeri can consider himself lucky to have remained on the pitch after a nasty challenge with studs high on Ersan Gulum before Dutch sensation Leroy George restored parity just six minutes after the Reds had taken the lead. Kiwi Kosta Barbarouses jinked into the Adelaide penalty box to cross for George to thump a header into the back of the net and the game entered its final phase.
Besart Berisha has been criticised by some sections of the media, some going as far as to suggest that his powers had faded but the leading goalscorer in A-League history showed why is a big game player, taking his chance on 89 minutes as extra time loomed as Barbarouses got into position to cross and Berisha got a yard of space on Jordan Elsey to connect with a spectacular overhead kick, the ball nestling in the bottom corner of the goal for a 2 -1 Victory lead.
With only a few moments to go, Adelaide were understandably deflated and Berisha was substituted to a rapturous applause. His eighth goal in eight A-League finals saw Victory over the line, they stay alive in the Finals Series and the man himself reflected on his performance after the match to Fox Sports;
“I love these games, this is why I play this game and I take nothing for granted. If I had a chance to play a final, I’ll do everything to win.”
Next to come, Newcastle Jets welcome Melbourne City at the McDonald Jones Stadium on April 27th, 19:50 AEST and Sydney FC host Melbourne Victory in a ‘Big Blue’ showdown at the Allianz Stadium on April 28th, also 19:50 AEST – a rematch of last year’s Grand Final. The two winning teams will the contest the 2018 A-League Grand Final on May 5th.