Marquee match-ups just what the doctor ordered

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The FFA Cup Final and the Sydney Derby have reignited the A-League’s fire to ensure the 2019-20 season has started with a bang.

Recently, the pessimism around the A-League has been hard to ignore. Steadily decreasing crowd numbers (although early attendances this season indicate a resurgence) and dwindling television ratings (but how many are watching on Kayo?) have been the talk of the town. The on-field product has at times felt tired, played in soulless stadiums ill-equipped to conduct an electric atmosphere.

So it was a refreshing change of pace to see the two biggest fixtures over the past week deliver in spades. Adelaide’s FFA Cup Final thrashing of Melbourne City and a Red and Black triumph over Sky Blue in the Sydney Derby were the two perfect advertisements for what the league should be. Both featured an abundance of colour, great goals, passion, drama and narratives.

The two games themselves were lessons in clinical finishing. Adelaide took their chances with vigour, converting four of their six shots on target. Led by a rampant Al Hassan Toure, the Reds secured back-to-back cup final victories with aplomb.

In Sydney, the visitors huffed and puffed, but their finishing was as decisive as a post-game Robbie Slater piece-to-camera. A lack of composure in the final third for the Sky Blues, partnered with some quality keeping from Daniel Lopar and Mitchell Duke’s bullet header handed the Wanderers the victory against the run of play.

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While the number of eyes on the game is a popular water cooler topic on #SokkahTwitter, seeing two stadiums in two different cities packed to the rafters was a joy to behold. Coopers Stadium bathed in a sea of red is one of the best sights in the A-League, and the ensuing sight of United players celebrating their second consecutive cup final with a fervent home crowd was a welcome side dish. Jordan Elsey grabbing the megaphone and leading the post-game celebrations in front of the Hindmarsh faithful was the icing on the cake.

Meanwhile, after a few years at the concrete cauldrons of Stadium Australia and Spotless Stadiums, Bankwest Stadium’s first derby was a reminder of what we’ve been missing. The A-League’s best rivalry had been left by the wayside over the past couple of years, and Saturday was a welcome reminder of what a great spectacle it is. Wanderers’ coach Markus Babbel even claimed it was among the best atmospheres he had witnessed.

Western Sydney winning their first derby in 980 days at their new stadium in front of a sold-out crowd was written in the stars, and a perfect christening to boot. Not only did it send them to the top of the table, but it set up the next two fixtures between the two sides perfectly and showed there is a different air around this side this season.

However, the best story to come out of the past week was easily the meteoric rise of Toure. The teenager lit the FFA Cup on fire for Adelaide with four goals throughout the competition before the final. He somehow went to another level on Wednesday night. An opportunistic strike for the opener, followed by a huge hand in the second and the Mark Viduka Medal for best afield.

However, the most enduring image came in the aftermath of the second goal. Here was the Liberian immigrant whose family fled war, overcome with emotion after realising he had written his name into South Australian football folklore. A Hollywood tale in Adelaide indeed.

After some blasé headlines in recent times, Toure’s breakout party, the success of the cup final and the colourful Sydney Derby were a welcome reminder of what the A-League is capable of.

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