While the Central Coast Mariners are fuming about the scheduling of Saturday night's semi-final, A-League boss Damien de Bohun says it was impossible to find another timeslot.
The Mariners lost 1-0 to Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Wednesday night and only arrive back in Australia on Friday morning, giving them barely a day to prepare for their clash against the Western Sydney Wanderers at Parramatta Stadium.
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Central Coast Mariners will play for a spot in the A-League grand final 36 hours after arriving back in Australia. Is this fair?
The brutal turnaround puts the Wanderers in the box seat – their Asian Champions League match against Guizhou Renhe was played a day earlier and at home – to exact revenge on the Mariners for last season’s grand final defeat.
The Mariners wanted the match moved to the Sunday but FFA said ground availability and television scheduling would not allow it.
"We had to make a booking for Suncorp Stadium for the Brisbane versus Melbourne Victory match and the only available time that was available was on Sunday," de Bohun said. "We'd have liked to had a match on Friday night, which was our original plan, but we moved that back a day to help the Mariners.
"You can't please everybody in doing the finals but our job is to make a system that is fair and equitable for everybody and we feel, given the circumstances, we've been able to accommodate all four teams within the parameters we have."
FFA believes it is better served from a television perspective by playing finals games over multiple days rather than on the same day, which explains why the match was not held on Sunday, despite Parramatta Stadium being available.
On Wednesday, Mariners owner Mike Charlesworth lambasted FFA for failing to give the club sufficient recovery time.
"I don't think this could happen anywhere else in the world," he said. "I know we've got a unique geographic situation but I don't think any other country would allow it. It's absolutely ludicrous.
"I understand the FFA are in a difficult situation but clearly a mistake has been made in the planning."
De Bohun praised the Australian clubs for their performances in the Champions League, despite the scheduling conflicts with the A-League.
"In a way, it's a good problem to have because it shows the strength of how our teams are performing in Asia," he said. "We had three teams who were competitive right to the last match day and who also made it into the final four of the A-League. That points to the health of our clubs and how strong the league has become. It's difficult to balance the A-League and the ACL but this is the reality of being in the big time."
The Mariners will check into their Parramatta hotel on Friday morning and try to get as much rest as possible before the match the following evening.
Charlesworth was also angry at FFA for a ticket allocation for visiting Mariners fans of just 1200 when he claimed they could have filled an entire end of the stadium, arguing they would have brought between 4000 and 5000 fans.
But de Bohun said the priority was looking after the home finals team.
"We understand their perspective but our belief is that, if you're a member of the side hosting the finals' match, you should have the right to purchase a ticket in your home team area," he said. "That's one of the advantages of earning the right to host a match and we have the same belief with all finals matches."
Although the current finals system remains a point of contention among the fans, especially those of top two sides who are given no second chances, de Bohun said he believed it was working well.
"Australians love finals, it's part of our sporting culture and we're comfortable we've found the right fit," he said. "The Easter weekend for crowds will always present a challenge but the television ratings were strong – over 300,000 for the Melbourne Victory-Sydney game – and there was some great football being played. It really sets up the semi-finals this weekend."