Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A-League Team of the Finals

Just over a month ago I ran through the A-League team of the regular season, but the finals are an altogether different proposition, with the cream often rising to the top. So just who did shine at the crunch end of the season? Here is the A-League team of the finals, this time in the most popular finals formation, 4-4-1-1;

Goalkeeper; Danny Vukovic
Back-four (right to left); Dean Heffernan, Mark Rudan, Michael Beauchamp, Alvin Ceccoli
Midfield (right to left); Wayne O’Sullivan, Andre Gumprecht, Dwight Yorke, Travis Dodd
Attacking midfield; Steve Corica
Striker; Sasho Petrovski

Goalkeeper, Danny Vukovic (Central Coast Mariners); while he was assured throughout the finals, his standout game was in the preliminary final, where he thwarted Adelaide with a couple of great saves and his ability to sweep behind the back four. Good shot stopper, courageous, not afraid to venture off his line and appears to have the belief that could take him a long way, has become an instant hero of the folks in Gosford.

Right back, Dean Heffernan (Central Coast Mariners); yes he’s left sided, but given the dearth of quality right backs in this year’s competition and finals and the fact he and Ceccoli were neck and neck on the left, ‘The Heff’ gets the gig on the right. As per the regular season, his over-lapping was again a feature of the finals, particularly his heroics against Newcastle in week two of the minor semi. One particular piece of cover defending, when he mowed down Vaughan Coveny with a breathtaking display of pace, will live long in the memory.

Central defender; Mark Rudan (Sydney FC); did an admirable job in keeping Chinese sharp shooter Shengqing Qu quiet in the first leg of the major semi and then came up with the winner in week two that gave Sydney hosting rights for the decider, where he finally captured his first title by helping Sydney keep its first clean sheet in seven games.

Central defender, Michael Beauchamp, (Central Coast Mariners); formed a rock-solid partnership throughout the finals with Andrew Clark, conceding only twice in four games, one of them a rocket from outside the box by Matt Thompson that he could do little about. Didn’t deserve to be a loser of Sunday and, after some doubts towards the end of the season, showed he has the temperament to cope with the bigger games.

Left back, Alvin Ceccoli (Sydney FC); Mr. Consistent, the only permanent fixture of Sydney’s back-four demonstrated again how tough he his to nudge off the ball. Tactically astute and strong, the biggest compliment is how few opposition goals came from his side of the pitch and how few of his opponents got past him.

Right midfield, Wayne O’Sullivan (Central Coast Mariners); one of the Mariners most consistent finals players, O’Sullivan never stopped running in all four games. Not only did he give Mateo Corbo and Adam Van Dommele headaches, but he was the only player to get the better of Ceccoli, which he did in the first period on Sunday.

Central midfield, Andre Gumprecht (Central Coast Mariners); tried as hard as anyone to inspire his team to the title, but ran out of juice in the second period on Sunday. As was the case during the regular season, his all round abilities in attack and defence are difficult to match up on. Played a key role in getting his men to the decider, setting up Tom Pondeljak’s winner in Adelaide.

Central midfield, Dwight Yorke (Sydney FC); the key man in Sydney’s make up, Mr. Marquee enhanced his reputation, lifting his performances when the important finals games came around. After an indifferent mid-section of the season, his value was demonstrated in a couple of key 15 minutes periods, in the 2nd leg of the major semi against Adelaide when he lifted the crowd and his teammates, and then with his blistering and memorable contribution on Sunday. Like all the better players, creates so much time and space for himself, playing the game at his own pace.

Left midfield, Travis Dodd (Adelaide United); scored one of the goals of the finals in the first leg of the major semi against Sydney when he took a long ball on the chest, cut inside Mark Milligan and rounded Clint Bolton, before placing it between two defenders on the line. It was Dodd at his direct best.

Attacking midfield, Steve Corica (Sydney FC); played most of the finals in behind Petrovski, but back on the left for the decider, where he scored what he described as his most memorable moment in football to clinch the title for Sydney. When his manager Pierre Littbarski asked for his senior men to stand up after a poor first half, Corica and Yorke responded. Young Alex Wilkinson was given a lesson by the former Socceroo in the second period.

Striker, Sasho Petrovski (Sydney FC); after a poor finish to the regular season, Petrovski proved he is a big game player, bagging two goals against Adelaide, one away and one at home. It took him to nine for the campaign and the golden boot. Was isolated during the opening half of the grand final, but linked up well with Corica and Yorke in the second period.

Manager of the finals, Pierre Littbarski (Sydney FC); little separated Sydney and Central Coast throughout the season and the same could be said about their respective mangers during the finals. While Lawrie McKinna was masterful in winning two away games 1-0 and taking his underdogs to the grand final, Littbarski also had to deal with the pressure and expectation thrust on Sydney. First the pressure of winning the right to host the grand final, particularly in the face of the fierce rivalry which had developed against Adelaide and John Kosmina, then the pressure of being the favourites in the decider. While he knows luck played a role in both the major semi and grand final, his ability to cajole the best out of his men when he needed it most shouldn’t be underestimated.


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