Monday, February 20, 2006

Thrilling night as rivalry intensifies

Sydney FC 2 v Adelaide United 1 (4-3 on aggregate)

If there are any conclusions to be drawn from another pulsating Sydney v Adelaide clash, Mark V, one can only assume there weren’t be too many invitations between the clubs when it‘s time for players to celebrate their testimonials in the coming years.

While privately there may be a degree of respect from both sides, on the field and on the bench the animosity is intense, serious and very public.

It was best summed up at the end of the match, when managers Pierre Littbarski and John Kosmina had a heated chat after the Adelaide boss refused to acknowledge Littbarski's hand-shake offering. Deja vu for those who remember the public battle between Kosmina and Queensland Roar manager Miron Bleiberg before Christmas.

Presumably Kosmina wasn't pleased with Littbarski's use of the media earlier in the week, where the German great publicly criticised Adelaide for its physical style in the first leg. It seemed he was particularly targeting Carl Veart, who was worked up to become public enemy number one after a number of 'borderline' challenges at Hindmarsh.

Then senior player Alvin Ceccoli upped the ante on Tuesday with another stinging attack on Adelaide's style, a physical and in-your-face style that is to some people "dirty" and to others "competitive".

Then Mark Milligan, the victim of one of Veart's challenges last weekend, went on the record claiming his team would concentrate on "playing the ball". While not stating it in as many words, presumably he was saying that Adelaide had been playing the man.

When asked about all this ahead of the game, Kosmina made the point that Littbarski "should concentrate on his coaching".

Indeed, there is history between these two sides dating back to their first clash of the season in round seven at Aussie Stadium, when Kosmina and his Adelaide side felt they were robbed a point when a Shengqing Qu injury time header appeared to have equalised the match.

The two regular season games since and the first leg last week have all been tight and gripping affairs, punctuated by moments of brilliance such as Ceccoli's scorcher in round 21 and Rech's volley at Adelaide in round 14 and many moments of hostility.

While Adelaide has forged a reputation for being tough, Sydney are no shrinking violets. From the pre-season they have shown a willingness to match it physically with any team, and when they felt their main man Dwight Yorke was copping extra attention early in the year, they weren't afraid to turn up the stakes and make a public point of it.

And in Sasho Petrovski, Ceccoli, Matthew Bingley, Mark Rudan, Iain Fyfe, David Zdrilic and Terry McFlynn, Sydney have a number of players who can hold their own in any physical duel.

When you consider that this Adelaide side has a physical spine the envy of most teams - Veart, Michael Valkanis, Krisitan Rees, Angelo Costanzo, Ross Aloisi, Fernando Rech and Qu - and that this game would decide who hosts the big one in a fortnight, could we honestly have expected anything else from this match?

Who would have envied being in the position of Mark Shield, the best whistle blower in the country, who would somehow have to control all that was bubbling beneath the surface.

To add to the pre-game tension, Sydney's vocal brigade, the Cove, were whipped into a frenzy about 20 minutes before kick-off by one of the most touching public displays you are likely to see at a football match. When Littbarski wandered over with a chair and folded cloth and sat there, arms folded, in front of the Cove for five minutes you wondered what on earth was going on.

Was the German doing his best impersonation of a security guard or was he about to make an "I told you so" statement to those fans that were calling for his head only a few weeks ago? It became apparent a few minutes later when goalkeeping coach Jim Fraser and the whole squad wondered over and, together with Littbarski, unfurled a heart-warming banner, signed by each member of the club; "To the best fans - Thanks".

The Cove and the stadium erupted. If there wasn't already enough motivation for Sydney players, then suddenly a united stadium would make it that little more difficult for the visitors.

Not surprisingly, Sydney dominated the opening exchanges and might have scored after 30 seconds, but after the initial 10 minute onslaught, Adelaide settled down and looked to be getting on top when Petrovski exposed Adelaide's lack of pace at the back.

The game ebbed and flowed, with the momentum shifting back and forth. Adelaide was unlucky not to equalise a short time later when Qu headed against the crossbar. At times it was hard to decide whether to keep your eyes on the ball or behind play, such where the number of off the ball incidents.

Needing two goals, Adelaide had to come out and play and not surprisingly the second half was a brilliant spectacle. Qu's equaliser was top-notch and in keeping with his great work throughout the season, cutting inside Milligan and finishing with precision. One can only hope he backs-up for another season or two in the A-League.

Sydney, who had seemed content to sit back and counter, were suddenly brought to life, with Yorke lifting the crowd with his brilliant feet and crowd-pumping gestures at a couple of corners. It helped that Sydney was attacking the Cove end.

The crowd responded, helping lift Sydney's play. Yorke was the conductor, teeing Steve Corica up with a wonderful cross from the right, but goalkeeper Daniel Beltrame made a splendid save at the back post. Shortly afterwards, Rudan was left unattended at the same post as Milligan drifted in a delightful cross from the right, finishing with the aplomb of a striker, which of course is where he spent some time earlier in the season, when his days as a defender looked limited.

It's a credit to Rudan that he buckled down and got himself fit when he wasn't in the side, and he's now reaping the benefits of his hard work.

For Adelaide the scenario hadn't changed, they still needed a second goal, only that it would now take them to extra time. They pressed and pressed, introducing new signing Greg Owens to right midfield. He made a couple of telling contributions, crossing to Veart who guided his free header over the bar, then playing in Ross Aloisi, who somehow hit the post, with Rech’s rebound cleared off the line by Rudan. Thrilling stuff.

In truth this game deserved to be decided in extra time, but Adelaide were left to lament the misfortune of twice hitting the post. Perhaps Kosmina will wonder if his decision to hold the first leg at home was the right one.

Sydney has now clearly wrestled the momentum and will go into the decider, if it is to be against Adelaide, with the psychological edge.

Perhaps there will be a sixth installment of this building rivalry, but Adelaide will be hard-pressed to halt the momentum that the Central Coast Mariners have built, and it will be a fascinating battle next week to see who takes on Sydney on March 5.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Adelaide are a bunch of thugs and I hope CCM knock them off next week. Sydney vs CCM - that would be a great grand final

Mon. Feb. 20, 04:22:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Adelaide are a top class side and the tag of a rough and tumble side is unwarranted.

Adelaide deserved to win and were unlucky, conceding a dubious goal and hitting 2 posts.

Adelaide have been the form side of the year and clearly deserve to take out the "Double".

Go the Reds.....

Yours in Sport

Mon. Feb. 20, 06:02:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous johny said...

Adelaide played well yesterday but they get involved in 2 much niggly incidents. If they focussed more on playing football then getting dirty and arguing with the referee they would have won.

Mon. Feb. 20, 07:43:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Pierre said...

Mark Shield might be the best whistle blower in country, but he wouldn't get the callup for scunthorpe v diamonds and rushden game.
The officiating all year has been below par compared to the football being played.

Mon. Feb. 20, 10:08:00 pm AEDT  

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