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|SoccerAnchor's A-League Finals Preview: Week 1|
We have arrived! The Hyundai A-League finals are upon us, and the contest is about to heat up! The Central Coast Mariners claimed their first Premiers Plate, but had to do it the hard way, holding off a spirited Wellington Phoenix outfit, whilst Brisbane Roar fielded a second-string line-up against M1 rivals Gold Coast United, and barely hung on. What will happen this weekend, as we will be saying goodbye to two teams by Sunday evening...
Friday, 30 March 2012
Wellington Phoenix - Sydney FC
Wellington's form over the past two weeks may not have been ideal for a side that has qualified for the finals, but Tim Brown's announcement that he will be retiring at season's end will surely lift his team-mates. The Phoenix conceded three goals to Melbourne Victory and two to Premiers Plate winners Central Coast Mariners last weekend. The New Zealanders will host their first final since 2010, and keen to progress to the next stage of the tournament. Paul Ifill and captain Andrew Durante made the PFA's Team of the Year.
Sydney turned it on against potential finalists Newcastle Jets, and romped to a devastating 3-1 lead at half-time. Joel Chianese's first-half brace could have been extended, had Ben Kennedy not been in between the sticks for the Jets. Bruno Cazarine has been target by the opposition as the player to stop, as his influence on the Sky Blues has been noticeable. Liam Reddy won't play, as he has been sent home for rowdy behaviour on the way to the New Zealand city, meaning Ivan Necevski will remain in between goals.
These two sides have met in the finals, and it was Sydney that claimed a 4-2 win in 2010. But the Phoenix have won all three encounters this season.
Prediction: Wellington Phoenix 2-1 Sydney FC
Saturday, 31 March 2012
Brisbane Roar - Central Coast Mariners
By the time Brisbane Roar got to play last weekend against Gold Coast in the M1 Derby, the Premiers Plate had already been decided. Ange Postecoglou opted to field a second-string line-up, but he did field Besart Berisha, Henrique, Shane Stefanutto and Erik Paartulu in that squad. Berisha was aiming to surpass Shane Smeltz's all-time goalscorng record in a season, but could not find the back of the net for the 20th time. The Roar players will be more refreshed, and raring to go.
CCM had to win the Premiers Plate the hard way, fighting it out with Wellington across the ditch for supremacy. But Graham Arnold's men got the result they wanted, with a 2-1 win. Yellow and Navy fans sat on the edge of their seats for the finals 10 minutes, as the Phoenix scored, but the side held on. John Sutton and Bernie Ibini got on the scoresheet, and are expected to do the same once again on Saturday evening. One thing Central Coast will need to overcome is last season's epic Grand Final loss at Suncorp, having held a two-goal lead with four minutes to go, and squandering their opportunity on penalties.
These two sides have met five times in the Finals, with the Roar winning all of the encounters. PFA Team of the Year defensive recipients Patrick Zwaanswijk, Josh Rose and Mat Ryan will meet Thomas Broich, Mitch Nichols and Besart Berisha, who made the list on the opposite side of the 'pitch'.
Prediction: Brisbane Roar 2-0 Central Coast Mariners
Sunday, 1 April 2012
Perth Glory - Melbourne Heart
If Wellington were under pressure coming into the final game of the season, so were Perth. Having lost 3-0 to Gold Coast the week before, the Glory had a point to prove against Melbourne Victory last weekend. And they - and Shane Smeltz - certainly did that in style. The New Zealand striker became the all-time leading goalscorer in the A-League, overtaking Archie Thompson with his quartet of goals. And with Liam Miller and Dean Heffernan set to return, Ian Ferguson will have a few less selection headaches.
Melbourne Heart coach John van't Schip has been facing selection dilemmas over the past few weeks, as his side has a clean bill of health. The only problem has been the team's inability to get a win. Despite being unbeaten in six outings, they were unable to get a win in their last four matches. But none of this matters in finals, and the Heart will be eager to put on a good show in their first appearance. And after Fred was named captain of the Team of the Season, and Michael Marrone named in the squad, the Heart have it all to do.
Perth's home form has been very good, but the Heart have won at nib Stadium this term. Can Marrone, Curtis Good and Aziz Behich keep Smeltz and Mehmet at bay? The winner of that battle will ensure their side goes a long way.
Prediction: Perth Glory 2-1 Melbourne Heart