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What: Hyundai A-League Grand Final
Who: Melbourne Victory vs Sydney FC
When: Saturday 20th March 2010, 08:00 GMT, 19:00 local time
Where: Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, Australia

The Stakes

With Sydney winning the league and Melbourne making the grand final the ACL (Asian Champions League) spots are now sown up for the two teams.

There had been some mutterings by Melbourne of dropping out of the finals had they become minor premiers so as to concentrate on their current ACL campaign, but this was always a bit of bluster and not surprisingly didn’t come to pass.

For Victory’s passionate fans this is the game of the season against the best possible opponents and over 50,000 tickets have already been sold. Regional pride, bitter rivalry and the final chance to decide which state capital rules mean any player not giving 100% will soon have a stadium on their back.

Australians love their grand finals, and any recent arrivals should have taken note.

The Tides

Sydney beat Wellington Phoenix comfortably to make it to this stage, but only after failing to beat Melbourne themselves over two legs. The strain was enough for Sydney coach Vitezslav Lavicka to give them an extra day off in the build-up, claiming this was for mental, not physical reasons. However, beating Melbourne on the final day of the regular season will remind them how it’s done, and they were leading after 90 minutes in the second semi-final.

Melbourne have had a game less to get there, and get home advantage, but enter this grand final amid a flurry of ACL fixtures, playing in Japan just three days after this season capping match. Victory captain Kevin Muscat’s been putting a positive spin on things, talking up their against-the-odds battling quality, but a loss next Tuesday against Kawasaki Frontale would see them on zero points after three games. Knowing where to focus may come into play.

Recent form

Melbourne Victory:
Sydney 2-0 Melbourne Victory (A-League)
Melbourne Victory 2-1 Sydney (Major semi-final)
Beijing Guoan 1-0 Melbourne Victory (Asian Champions League)
Sydney 2-2 Melbourne Victory (Major semi-final)
Melbourne Victory 0-2 Seongnam Ilhwa (Asian Champions League)

Sydney FC:
Sydney 3-2 Perth Glory 2 (A-League)
Sydney 2-0 Melbourne Victory (A-League)
Melbourne Victory 2-1 Sydney (Major semi-final)
Sydney FC 2-2 Melbourne Victory (Major semi-final)
Sydney FC 4-2 Wellington Phoenix  (Preliminary final)

Players to watch

This is the league’s best attack versus the best defence.

Melbourne Victory: It’s hard to look beyond Carlos Hernandez and Archie Thompson. Hernandez has been in sensational form this season, picking up the Johnny Warren Medal and even earning a recall to the Costa Rican national squad. With 13 goals and nine assists this season, Sydney’s Stuart Musialik will need to keep a tight check on him and not let him go for a second.

Thompson is a different proposition. Speed, power, a good footballing mind and ruthless in front of goal. In the 2007 final Melbourne put Adelaide United to the sword, winning 6-0 and Thompson scored five of them showing he’s not awed by the big occasion. He remains the A-League’s all time top scorer.

Sydney FC: Karel Kisel should be the main man in midfield. It’s looking increasingly likely that he won’t be at Sydney FC next season, but the Slovakian has this final chance to become an instant legend. Really coming into his own over the finals series, Kisel has shown himself to be the man for the big occasion and has that added touch of class that will be needed. He’s scored against Melbourne in two of their last three meetings.

Defender Stephan Keller also has a big role to play. Calm, composed and assured he’s undoubtedly settled easily in to his partnership with Simon Colosimo. An astute reader of the game, it will be his job to try and keep an eye on Melbourne’s glittering array of attacking talent. There’s been some discussion in the press as to who will fill the right back role, but it’s the centre that’s going to prove critical.

Match Prediction

The bookies have Melbourne Victory locked in as favourites, no doubt given their home advantage, and this seems about right. Sydney like to hold onto the ball, pass it around and build their attacks slowly. Melbourne, as has been seen so often, can steal it and have it in the net before their opponents know what’s happened. 

With a large crowd screaming their heads off, it’s going to be hard for Sydney to stick to their patient passing game and they will surely be punished, especially if their own attackers prove wasteful with the few chances they create.

The one question mark is a twist of fate. No team has ever successfully defended a Hyundai A-League Grand Final.  But then there have only been four, and Melbourne have won two of them. Melbourne to win, but it will be tight.


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