Brisbane Roar claim dramatic Grand Final win

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History repeated itself at Suncorp Stadium on Orange Sunday III as Brisbane Roar produced another nail-biting Grand Final win – a 2-1 come-from-behind victory against Western Sydney Wanderers to claim their third A-League title in four years.

Henrique struck a dramatic winner in the second period of extra-time, in the process ensuring Brisbane Roar become the most successful club in the A-League with three championships.

Over 51,000 boisterous fans were treated to another nail-biting season finale as Besart Berisha equalised late in regular time for Brisbane in his last match for the club.

Up until that point, the Roar had trailed to an early second-half header from Matthew Spiranovic that looked like it might wipe out Wanderers’ memories from their Grand Final loss to Central Coast last season.

It wasn’t to be, as Brisbane went into extra-time with momentum behind them and continued their habit of producing miraculous comebacks in Grand Finals.

It is the third showpiece in which Brisbane has come from behind to snatch victory away from their opponents.

In 2011, they ousted Central Coast on penalties after overturning a 0-2 deficit in the dying moments of extra-time.

A year later, they looked down and out against Perth Glory, only for Besart Berisha to step up late on and bag a brace that secured their second consecutive title.

For coach Mike Mulvey, involved in his debut Grand Final in only his second season in charge of Roar, Brisbane’s tendency to come back when all seems lost is no coincidence.

“These things don’t happen by accident,” Mulvey said.

“They happen because we maintain shape – we maintain organisation and we’ve got the players that can deliver.

“Why give up, you don’t give up.

“Until the guy blows the whistle you’ve always got a chance.”

For his counterpart Tony Popovic, the loss is a bitter pill to swallow after failing to make amends for last year’s 0-2 Grand Final loss to Central Coast.

“I feel worse this year personally, as I felt last year we just weren’t good enough,” Popovic said.

“I though this year we were and the first half we totally dominated the game.

“To put up such a great performance and come up short it hurts more than last year.”

The atmosphere in the River City was electric prior to kick-off, as over 10,000 travelling Wanderers fans made sure they weren’t outvoiced by the sea of orange lining the streets surrounding Suncorp Stadium.

The usual delay to kick-off was imminent, as the hordes of spectators filled up Brisbane’s cauldron of football.

Both clubs’ supporter groups – Roar’s The Den and Wanderers’ Red and Black Bloc (RBB) – exchanged war cries long before the first whistle, a trend that would tirelessly continue throughout proceedings.

Once the match got under way, the enormity of the occasion took hold as a cagey opening ensured space was at a premium for either side.  

For two teams with recent Grand Final experience, perhaps the memories were fresher in Western Sydney’s minds, as they settled into the match quicker and enjoyed territorial advantage.

Shinji Ono, playing his last match on Australian soil for the Wanderers, had the first shot in anger from distance on twenty minutes, but it proved easy pickings for Michael Theo.

It was always going to be a match of close margins and the fifty-fifty battles in midfield were as even as they were intense.

Referee Peter Green remained patient amongst heated challenges, with the first yellow card of the match not arriving until the 24th minute – Brendon Santalab with a crude challenge on Matt McKay.

Luke Brattan was part of the 2011 and 2012 championship winning squads but never as a starter – today he was showing great signs of commitment as he slid and tackled his way to the ball.

The most dangerous moment of the half arrived just before the half hour mark, as Johnny Warren medallist Thomas Broich came inches from breaking the deadlock as his fierce drive from long range whizzed past the upright.

As so often happens, both teams turned up the intensity as half-time loomed in search of a morale-boosting lead at the break.

What ensued was a frantic three minutes of football before going into the sheds.

Santalab was the first to rue a wasted opportunity, as a terrible first touch distanced him from goal when it seemed he was through against Theo.

Moments later, Ivan Franjic sent chills down the spine of the RBB, as his cross-come-shot struck the crossbar in front of the travelling fanatics.

Brattan would enjoy the last opportunity of a fruitless first stanza, as his optimistic shot from a tight angle was parried away by Ante Covic.

It was an action-packed end to a first half that saw both attacks nullified by the solidity of the opposition’s defence, rather than solely lacking a cutting edge.

Arguably the league’s most feared striker, Besart Berisha was allowed no time on the ball as tight man-to-man marking by Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Matthew Spiranovic ensured the Albanian danger-man had no time or space to weave his magic in the final third.

The second half was destined to deliver goals, as both sides attacked the end in front of their supporter base.

Roar were no doubt spurred on by whatever was said by Mulvey at half-time, as they applied the offensive intensity that saw them run away with the minor premiership ten points clear of Western Sydney.

Berisha found an inch of space for the first time in the match and wasted no time in producing a dangerous shot that was blocked by Topor-Stanley.

Minutes later Franjic came close once more, but his long-range strike sailed narrowly over the bar.

Given their team’s lively start to the second half, the orange majority of the crowd were stunned when Spiranovic rose at the near post to expertly head home Ono’s corner on 56 minutes.

It was an attacker’s finish aided by one of the most feared on the field – Broich’s positioning at the front post meant he failed to clear before Spiranovic pounced.

It took Brisbane ten minutes to regroup and intensify their search for an equaliser – it was a position they and the home supporters were familiar with.

Bersiha again found rare space in the box following an ingenious ball from Broich, but a desperate lunge by Spiranovic ensured his dangerous looking shot merely produced a corner.

Moments later the soon-to-be Melboune Victory player inexplicably headed over when he seemed destined to bury an unchallenged header.

Finals often hinge on moments of brilliance or misfortune and the latter struck Western Sydney with half an hour to play.  

Topor-Stanley desperately challenged Berisha as the striker was bearing down on goal, in the process twisting his knee and signalling for an immediate substitution.

Wanderers’ set-up was inarguably disturbed, as no central defender on the bench meant Aaron Mooy was brought on and Iacopo La Rocca pushed back to partner Spiranovic.

Brisbane looked to take advantage of the situation and brought on fresh legs in Henrique and Steven Lustica.  

The former, aptly referred to as the ‘slippery fish’ (Biliquinha in Portuguese), almost immediately linked up with Berisha in the box but blasted over to the dismay of The Den.

Tension mounted in the stands as desperation crept onto the field, but history has proven the Roar are never to be discounted until the final whistle.

The legacy of two previous Grand Final victories carried on with four minutes left on the clock.

The best player in the league delivered a pin-point free kick for the most appropriate of goal scorers at such a moment – Berisha burying Broich’s delivery with a free header from point-blank range.

The crowd went into delirium as extra-time was upon us – Brisbane had performed the great escape yet again.

But Western Sydney were not about to throw in the towel in their second consecutive Grand Final.

Substitute Labinot Haliti weaved past the Roar backline and found himself one-on-one with Theo, but the four-time championship winner got down well to save an attempt Haliti should have done better with.

It was the best chance of a nervy extra-time period, until Henrique stepped up to the plate in the second 15 minute stanza.

The diminutive Brazilian flicked on a cross from Shane Steffanutto into the path of the incoming James Donachie, who returned the favour and cut back for Henrique – unmarked in the box.

With a first touch of composure and a second of prolificacy, Henrique slammed the winner into the roof of Covic’s goal, followed by scenes of jubilation and misbelief.

The man who converted the winning penalty in Brisbane’s first ever Grand Final three years ago to begin the orange juggernaut had just ensured they became the most celebrated club in the A-League.

Wanderers pushed forward for one last time with substitute Tom Juric the clear target man.

With seconds ticking down, the youngster found himself with a chance to control and shoot, but the ball evaded him and with it the Wanderers’ chances of redemption as their second Grand Final loss in consecutive years was confirmed by the referee moments later.

“This is little Brisbane beating big Sydney – this is some achievement by this club,” Roar coach Mulvey said post-match.

“We’re building something very special here – three Grand Finals at home within four years, three wins and it’s a good platform to go forward.”

But even with history behind them, there must have been a tinge of concern for Mulvey as the clock wound down and his side were on the brink of walking away empty-handed after a dominant season.

“Never in doubt,” Mulvey confirmed.

“I thought we could win it in normal time to tell you the truth.

“This club, long before I arrived, has in its DNA that we never give up.

“I’ve been here as a spectator before when the guys won it and was very envious – now I know what it feels like to be part of it.”

The memory of a maiden A-League championship will live long in Mulvey’s memory, as it has taken him and the club just two seasons to rebuild after the Ange Postecoglou era.

But it has proved to be a journey riddled with success, with Mulvey and Broich picking up awards for best coach and player of the season at last week’s A-League annual awards, to go hand-in-hand with the Grand Final win and minor premiership.  

“To see a full house at Suncorp Stadium, to see players achieve what we mutually agreed were our targets for the season – to be part of that is absolutely special,” Mulvery said.

“I was a very proud man last Monday because we won a lot of individual awards.

“Tommy (Broich) and I spoke on the plane on the way home and we said we’d gladly hand in our individual awards to achieve success tonight.”

For Broich, Grand Final day was another piece in an ever-growing puzzle of success the German has enjoyed since moving to Australia and rediscovering his love of football.

“I really enjoyed the day, I was a bit nervous earlier in the week, but I woke up this morning and just had a great day,” Broich said.

“I was really looking forward to the game, I was at peace and had a lot of confidence.

“The boys didn’t let me down, it was a great game of football.”

Prior to Roar captain Matt Smith lifting the trophy, Broich and Iacopo La Rocca were historically rewarded with a Marston Medal each in the competition’s first ever tie for the individual award.

It was the only memorabilia of winning stature a distraught Western Sydney would be taking home, a silver runner-up medal little reward for another spirited performance and season by Tony Popovic’s troops.

“I’m very proud of the group and what they’ve done this year,” Popovic said.

“We got very close but unfortunately we didn’t win.

“They’re hurting in that change room but you’d expect that.”

Popovic admitted Topor-Stanley’s injury disrupted his team’s structure, with La Rocca reverting back to an unfamiliar role at centre half.

“It just changed the dynamics of it,” Popovic said.

“I thought La Rocca was doing a great job in the midfield patrolling at the start of the second half.

“Nikolai (Topor-Stanley) and Matty (Spiranovic) were doing a great job – they were never really troubled.

“It happens, injuries happen.”

Even into extra-time, Popovic admitted it still could have turned out differently in favour of his side.

“I think we had the best chance of the game with Labi (Haliti) in extra-time,” Popovic said.

“It’s 1-1 and he’s one-on-one with the ‘keeper.

“They’re those big moments – small detail in a big game.

“We didn’t take our chance – it’s not something against Labi, it’s just how it happened and they put away their opportunities.

“It was always going to be one moment – win it in extra-time or go to penalties.

“When they scored we tried hard in the end, but it was difficult.

“They’ve got a lot of experienced players and they closed it out quite well at the end.”

Next on the Wanderers’ agenda is a trip to Japan to take on Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Wednesday in the Round of 16 of the Asian Champions League.

The task of rebuilding for such a colossal tie after the emotional rollercoaster of the Grand Final is immense, but their dream of glory lives on.

“Tonight will be tough, but we wake up tomorrow and it’s a new day,” Popovic said.

“We have to get a flight and participate in a prestigious tournament.

“It’s something special for our club to be at this stage.

“It hurts, I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt seeing how close we came.

“I’ll wake up tomorrow and be focused on the next job we have and that’s a trip to Japan and we want to get through.”

For Brisbane, they have reached their dreams yet again and are proving that a structured club direction and identity can bare consistent rewards in a salary-capped competition format.

Brisbane Roar: 1. Michael THEO (GK), 2. Matthew SMITH (C), 3. Shane STEFANUTTO, 5. Ivan FRANJIC, 7. Besart BERISHA, 11. Liam MILLER (8. Steven LUSTICA 74’), 13. Jade NORTH, 17. Matthew McKAY, 18. Luke BRATTAN (15. James DONACHIE 90’+1), 22. Thomas BROICH, 23. Dimitri PETRATOS (10. Henrique 69’)

Western Sydney Wanderers: 1. Ante COVIC (GK), 3. Adam D’Apuzzo, 3. Nikolai Topor-Stanley (C) (10. Aaron MOOY, 66’), 6. Jerome POLENZ, 8. Mateo POLJAK, 11. Brendan SANTALAB (9. Tomi JURIC 73’), 13. Matthew SPIRANOVIC, 17. Youssouf HERSI, 18. Iacopo LA ROCCA, 19. Mark BRIDGE, 21. Shinji ONO (7. Labinot HALITI, 83’)

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