Yesterday’s thrilling conclusion of the A-League’s home and away season would have delighted the suits at FFA headquarters.
Heading into the last round four teams had booked a finals berth but none of them had secured a top two finish and the double chance. More importantly, whoever topped the table at the conclusion of the regular season won the premiers’ plate (which looks like a fruit bowl designed by Kanye West) and earned automatic qualification to the lucrative Asian Champions’ League next season.
In the end, that prize went to Lawrie McKinna’s Central Coast Mariners. A 2-nil home victory over Wellington Phoenix on Saturday night proved good enough for the team that had set the pace for the rest of the competition throughout the year.
McKinna was all too aware of the importance of finishing top as he sweated on results from Sunday’s games involving rivals Queensland Roar and Sydney FC. The affable Scot is a big picture man and believes his team can sell Gosford to the world.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
“Everyday 60,000 people commute from here to Sydney for work. If we can take the Central Coast brand to places like China we can help grow jobs and employment in the region.”
Next week The Mariners’ campaign for “the double” begins in the major semi against local rivals, the Newcastle Jets. Level on points at the season’s end, the Jets fell short on goal difference by one. Having taken care of Perth at home on Friday they travel to Gosford for the first leg of the tie this weekend without any fear, having beaten the Mariners there just over a week ago.
The cut-throat minor semi-final pits two big city clubs against each other. Both Sydney FC and Queensland Roar would be disappointed with their results yesterday.
Frank Farina’s team had a calamitous day. Firstly, they left their away kit at home meaning they turned out in their traditional predominantly orange shirt. With their opponents Adelaide United wearing red the teams were almost impossible to tell apart. It was amateurish and embarrassing.
It got worse. Former Socceroo Danny Tiatto was sent off for punching Adelaide’s Travis Dodd. Tiatto has seen more cards in his career than Joe Haschem and will surely miss the finals series. The Roar was beaten 2-nil and slipped from the top of the table to finish fourth.
John Kosmina’s Sydney FC had beaten Melbourne Victory only once in eight starts before yesterday. So it was hardly surprising that it finished 2-2 in front of a record crowd over 33,000 at Aussie Stadium yesterday.
The FFA faces the prospect of a Grand Final in either Gosford or Newcastle. Speculation is mounting that pressure will be on to move the showpiece game to a bigger venue. There is also growing discontent from A-League coaches about Pim Verbeeks’ demands on their players as he prepares for the Socceroos’ opening World Cup qualifier against Qatar on 6 February.
Here’s hoping the diplomats at FFA HQ can find form at the pointy end of the season as well.