Sunday, February 18, 2007

A-League Grand Final wrap

Melbourne Victory 6 v Adelaide United 0

FITTINGLY, thrillingly and most deservedly, Melbourne Victory are the champions.

Just as season one of the A-League was all about Sydney both on and off the field (Dwight Yorke, Pierre Littbarski, David Carney, the Cove, Bling, Hollywood, a sold out grand final, the hottest ticket in town, and a championship to boot), so season two was all about Melbourne.

Archie Thompson, Kevin Muscat, Fred, Danny Allsopp, Ernie Merrick, Aaron Healey, Gary Cole, Geoff Lord, the Blue and White Brigade, 11,000 odd members, record crowds at the Telstra Dome, regular crowds of over 30,000, incredible colour, a minor premiership wrapped up with five rounds left, an amazing fushion of English and European style support (the creation of an Australian style of support), this season was all about the V for Victory.

While its northern rival started squabbling no less than a few days after their inaugural season win, leading to the most dramatic of seasons, Melbourne got down to work, re-defining Melbourne's sporting landscape. Its 6-0 win tonight was reward for all the hard work, and very well done to everyone involved.

Merrick had taken much heat in the build up to this season and almost as much since clinching the minor premiership around Christmas. Sticking by his theory that the players needed to be freshened up for the finals, here was his vindication.

Three weeks ago, away to Adelaide in the first leg of the major semi, the Victory looked there for the taking. Perhaps a more positive team than Adelaide may have taken the grand final hosting rights.

But after their late heroics a fortnight ago and looking fresh and primed after a week off, this Melbourne mob appeared likely to finish the season as they had been throughout - strong when it mattered most.

It might have been a little different had Theoklitos not produced an early block to keep out Burns, at the second attempt. But even then Melbourne were looking brisk and lively up front, Thompson peeling wide, Allsopp dropping off the frontline, Fred getting high in support.

Adelaide, who had some structural issues at the back to solve after the unlucky suspension of Kemp, were being moved around at will. John Kosmina had taken the bold move of starting Owens as a straight swap on the left.

While I'd pre-empted to option of Owens starting earlier in the week, I just felt that shifting Alagich to the left and starting Owens on the right might be the better option. Not only had Owens looked comfortable on the right earlier in the season, but I felt his want to get forward might test Caceres's ability to get back, detracting from his attack.

As it was, Caceres was very prominent on the ball early on, often doubling up with Thompson to give Alagich a headache. With Owens often being dragged forward on the other side, Valkanis was caught out a couple of times trying to cover the left, Fred getting goal-side of him from a Brebner long ball, taking it down with a delightful first touch and sliding it into the path of Thompson, who finally had a goal against Adelaide.

Surely the newly crowned Fox Sports player of the year couldn't have dreamt of how much more productive his night was about to become. But first Dodd wasted a precious opportunity in behind down the right. Adelaide, it seemed, weren't at the races, and their skipper reacted to some baiting from his opposite, earning himself a yellow for a late lunge on Fred.

The Brazilian picked himself up and played a pivotal role in a beautifully constructed second. Taking a ball on the half-way line with his back to goal, he flicked it forward to Allsopp and then spun, sprinting to get forward down the right. Once again Owens had been caught out and Fred was in behind, squaring up for Thompson.

Aloisi, outnumbered, frustrated by a lack of support in front of the back four and keen to get a foot on the ball, was soon in late on Brebner. Red.

Muscat had won the battle. Soon the skipper was having even more of an impact. Having what seemed an eternity on the ball, he again caught Valkanis trying to cover Owens, Thompson taking his pass in space, ducking onto his left peg and firing home. For a week Thompson had spoken about scoring a hat-trick. Not in his wildest dreams could he have imagined it coming within 40 minutes.

Game over, the only interest was whether Adelaide could contain them in the second period. Goulding was on to try and stem the flow, an admission by Kosmina that he had got it horribly wrong. But soon United were losing the ball in attack and Melbourne countered with four on three, Fred driving on the ball with options left, right and central. He chose the latter, Thompson fortunate the flag stayed down, rounding off Beltrame for his fourth, three teed-up by Fred.

Adelaide's central defenders Costanzo and Valkanis felt insensed, adding to United's perception that the authorities had conspired against them. It was a good thing Kosmina was no-where near the technical area or we might have a had a few more headlines.

Instead, it was Thompson writing the headlines, soon getting on the end of some more incisive lead-up work from Fred. This time he burst past Alagich, getting to the byline and cutting it back. It was behind Allsopp but straight into the path of who-else?

Thompson and the Victory had their fifth, and last week's hero Beltrame had barely touched the ball.

Adelaide had brought on Spagnuolo and shifted Burns infield, close to substitute Djite. Not for the first time this season, the two combined reasonably well, perhaps a pointer to Adelaide's future.

But United were completely shot, Sarkies coming on for Thompson and placing one beautifully into the far corner, before placing an even more lethal finish on the forehead of the PM on the Victory dias.

Afterwards there were some sour grapes from Alosisi, the work of a guttered man, but nothing could dampen the mood in Melbourne, not even the rain. The only pity is that a team playing with this much momentum, style and flow won't immediately be able to represent Australia on the Asian stage.

Regardless, with the likes of Tommy Smyth here for ESPN, the PM finally jumping on the bandwagon (although some would argue he was responsible for launching it), the match relayed around the globe and thousands of AFL fans no-doubt sneaking a peak on the box to see what all the fuss was about, this was a smashing advertisement for the game. Bravo Melbourne.


Anonymous Colo Trifti said...

Owens!!!!!!!!!!!! I am not going to be harsh on him, as his teamates were not much better than him yesterday. But I still think he stands out like a shoe salesman in a lingerie shop in your team of the year.

Mon. Feb. 19, 11:36:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous Bernard said...

Noticed that the Victory has employed a number of female support staff. It appears as though the players appreciate them being around. Way to go! C'mon Melb, c'mon Melb.

Mon. Feb. 19, 02:14:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Matty said...

Don't care about Adelaide. Would have been nicer to play Sydney in the final and smash them 6-0!

Mon. Feb. 19, 02:16:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous colin said...

Mark Shield should look up the word CONSISTENCY in the dictionary. Once again we have a game spoiled by sub-standard refereeing. Yes Aloisi did deserve his cards but he could have shown some leniency on one of the two(just like he showed to his mate Muscat who was telling him how to referee the gane).
Obviously Aloisi was a bit fired up by being 2 goals down and he did run through the back of Bretner, but a word in his ear to settle him down and warn him that any further indiscretion and he'd be off.
I turned the tv off after that, because i'd knew it would be a whitewash. Also saw the highlights of the rest of the match. Stooge no.1 couldnt raise his flag when there were 2 obvious offsides(and hence 2 more thompson goals) and stooge no.2 couldnt keep the flag down for 'offside' when adelaide 'scored'.

Mon. Feb. 19, 05:58:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous frank f said...

Great game. The atmosphere was fantastic. It was even better when they closed the roof. Cant wait for Version3. Kosmina was found wanting in the tactical department. Sure he can fire up a team, but when that 'passion' fails to produce any results, he's left scratching his head(and drinking his coffee!).
To start Owens instead of Rees was a big mistake and Melbourne capitalized.

Tue. Feb. 20, 10:39:00 am AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

thanks all for your comments...

frank, you're certainly right, it was a great occasion, even if it wasn't the greatest contest. like last season's gf, which i was fortunate enough to be at, it was just a great day for the game.

perhaps for those yet to be converted afl fans, a dour 0-0 draw may not have been the best way of convincing them, but fortunately we got a beautiful attacking spectacle with plenty of goals and action. reading the piece yday from patrick smith in the oz re-inforced that there are still many out there waiting to be convinced, but I get the feeling that this game finally convinced him.

Ditto Richard Hinds over at The Age, who, thanks to his son, seems to have warmed to the Victory of late.

Reading many of the established Melbourne 'opinion' writers, all traditionally AFL, I was amazed at how positive the press was last week and in the aftermath.

I still remember the words of Kevin Sheedy early in season one when he was urging people in a press conference to "go to the game on Friday night and watch a boring 0-0 draw". He's been pretty quiet of late, I've noticed...

The success of Melbourne has been the story of season two, but I really hope there is no complacency from all involved, a lesson Sydney learnt this season.

Tue. Feb. 20, 10:24:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Bang Ladesh said...

nerds fc would've given adelaide a decent contest last weekend.

Wed. Feb. 21, 09:40:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous matty said...

its obvious that all you blokes are Sydney supporters. give victory some credit.

Wed. Feb. 21, 09:59:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous frank f said...

You're right Matty. The game seems to sydney-centric...this is an Australia league after all. Go the Victory and go Melbourne for 2008. Hope Sydney and Adelaide dont disgrace "us" in the ACL.

Wed. Feb. 21, 11:04:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous george said...

Just wondering what the GF would have been like with Mewcastle there instead of Adelaide. The -ve tactics of Kosmina (esp. since losing 2 of his most attacking players in spagnuolo and petta) against a Jets team willing to attack. The Victory would have been so glad to see Newcastle go out. (the 4-0 loss in the last round and a 2-0 loss earlier in the season to the Jets).
Sorry to say but a 6-0 win in a GF is not good for the game.

Wed. Feb. 21, 05:48:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous David said...

Colin seems to have the Veart disease - ONE of Archie's goals was offside. Rumour has it linesman slipped over in the rain. Okay 5-1, if you also believe Dodd wasn't offside due to the deflection, but obviously still a conspiracy.

Adelaide's only tactic was to slow the game down early on. After 2-0 they had no Plan B.

Wed. Feb. 21, 06:54:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

George, I certainly dont think anyone said the 6-0 result was good for the game...

What was good for the game was the whole build up and the day itself, from the positive media attention in Melbourne to the atmosphere in the ground, the fact all tickets were snapped up in hours, and the fact the the match was an attacking spectacle, even if it was one-sided.

The danger is that a dour and cagey 0-0 does nothing for the game. People feel short-changed and those that have something against the game have something to cling on to. For the big picture, an attacking and entertaining spectacle does wonders.

Bravo to Melbourne for recognising this and producing the goods when it mattered most.

Sat. Feb. 24, 11:15:00 am AEDT  

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