Hyundai A-League Finals preview

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The Hyundai A-League moves into its finals stage this weekend with Brisbane Roar firm favourites to claim the Championship.

The Finals, up there with the most ridiculous concepts in world football, gets underway on Friday night with the meeting of Adelaide United and Wellington Phoenix. Before looking at the individual match ups, I’ll try and make some sense of the system in place.

The top six teams at the end of the regular season who will now make up the post season are:

  1. Brisbane Roar
  2. Central Coast Mariners
  3. Adelaide United
  4. Gold Coast United
  5. Melbourne Victory
  6. Wellington Phoenix

The top two sides, Brisbane and Central Coast, do battle in a two legged affair with the winner guaranteed a home game in the Grand Final which takes place on Saturday, 12 March 2011.

The other four sides go into a semi final of sorts (3rd v 6th, 4th v 5th) with the two winners facing each other. But wait, there’s more! Whoever emerges victorious from that game then moves on to a preliminary final against the loser of the two legged affair between the Roar and the Mariners for a spot in the Grand Final. This effectively means that either Brisbane or Central Coast will be given a second chance to play in the showpiece final.

Confused? Don’t worry, it’ll all make sense if you read it a few times!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Adelaide United (3) v Wellington Phoenix (6)

For a while Adelaide United looked like being the only side capable of challenging Brisbane for the minor premiership. However, some indifferent results saw them finish in third spot on the ladder. The return from injury of youngster Mathew Leckie has been a welcome boost, and United boast the league’s top goalscorer Sergio van Dijk, who has netted 16 times. Their creative influence, Marcos Flores, will be looking to add to his eight goals and eight assists from the regular season.

Wellington claimed the last spot in the finals thanks in large part to the recent heroics of Danny Vukovic. The goalkeeper, who will play with Perth Glory next season, put in a number of stunning displays and even popped up at the other end of the pitch to score a penalty against the North Queensland Fury last weekend. Wellington’s other key man will be Tim Brown who has been in superb form all year, contributing six goals and four assists from the middle of the park. Paul Ifill returns from an ankle injury to boost the squad heading to South Australia.

Prediction: Adelaide United 2 – 0 Wellington Phoenix

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Central Coast Mariners (2) v Brisbane Roar (1) (First Leg)

Brisbane’s Michael Theoklitos, Luke DeVere, Ivan Franjic, Matt Smith, Matt McKay, Thomas Broich and Kosta Barbarouses were all named in the Professional Footballers Assocation Team of the Year this week. Furthermore, Jean Carlos Solorzano was named on the bench while Ange Postecoglou picked up the Coach of the Year award. The Roar lost just once during the regular season, going down 3-0 to Melbourne Victory in Round 5, and also set a record for most consecutive games without a defeat (24). Mitch Nichols is the big injury doubt for the game having rolled an ankle against Gold Coast United last weekend.

Central Coast meanwhile have been developing some promising youngsters in the shape of goalkeeper Matt Ryan and playmaker Mustafa Amini. Argentine Patricio Perez has finally started showing his capabilities after an injury interrupted start to his A-League career. A strike force of Matt Simon and Daniel MacBreen, with Adam Kwasnik in reserve, is always dangerous.

Prediction: Central Coast Mariners 1 – 2 Brisbane Roar

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Gold Coast United (4) v Melbourne Victory (5)

Gold Coast United boss Miron Bleiberg recently bemoaned Melbourne Victory’s physical style after their recent league clash, and there will be a certain amount of spice in the air going into this game as a result. New Zealand international Shane Smeltz has been in good form since returning from a spell overseas with seven goals in nine games for the year. The side will be missing skipper Jason Culina, however, who picked up a season ending knee injury while on international duty with Australia at the recent Asian Cup.

Victory midfielder Grant Brebner faces a race to be fit for the game with a calf injury, and Kevin Muscat is suspended for the year following his horrific challenge on Adrian Zahra during January’s Melbourne derby. They can however call on the likes of Carlos Hernandez, Danny Allsopp and Socceroos Asian Cup star Robbie Kruse to provide plenty of fire power up front.

Prediction: Gold Coast United 2- 3 Melbourne Victory (AET)

Neil Sherwin is co-editor of Back Page Football where he writes mostly on the Hyundai A-League and Premier League. You can follow him on twitter @NeilSherwin

Image courtesy: Pete Nowakowski

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Neil Sherwin
Neil has covered the Perth Glory and the Hyundai A-League for five years and is one of Western Australia's most knowledgeable football journalists.

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