Melbourne Victory‘s push for a top-two spot and the double chance is likely to go to the final kick of the A-League season.
Likewise Sydney’s battle to secure a spot in the finals after the teams finished with a goal apiece in an entertaining contest in front of 20,447 fans at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
The 1-1 draw means that Victory slips to fourth spot with 37 points, two less than Central Coast Mariners and one behind Western Sydney Wanderers.
Sydney clings to sixth spot with 33, just one more than Newcastle which plays on Sunday. With two rounds left, eight of the 10 teams could still make the play-offs, with only Melbourne Heart and Perth out of business.
How times change. When he first came to the A-League Alessandro Del Piero was lionised and saluted, rightly, as one of the contemporary greats of the game after a stellar 19-year career at Juventus and almost as long for the Italian national team.
The gifted midfielder was lauded for his touch, vision, guile and creativity, not to mention his ability to find the net from various distances and angles with sumptuous set-pieces.
Even home fans would take their turns to applaud and pay tribute to the master, putting aside, for the time being, the fact that he was seeking to wreak havoc against their own team.
What a contrast in Melbourne on Saturday night, when the maestro was booed by the home fans after a mid-pitch collision with Victory skipper Mark Milligan.
It was a clash which left the Socceroo midfielder writhing in pain, triggering fears, at least for a moment or two, that he had once again damaged his knee.
Del Piero, so often the recipient of positive refereeing decisions during his two seasons in the A-League, this time found himself on the receiving end of a talking to from the man in the middle, Jarred Gillett.
It was a precursor to another animated conversation he was to have, this time with Milligan, as the pair left the field at half-time. The Italian didn’t look happy - although the fact that Victory’s fearsome boss Kevin Muscat stood between him and the walk to the tunnel at the interval might also have had something to do with his expression.
When Sydney came south on Australia Day and routed Victory 5-0 - surely the nadir of the latter’s season and the high point of the visitors - Del Piero had been the orchestrator, the creative fulcrum for a Sky Blues side that dominated throughout and never gave their hosts a sniff.
It was a different ADP on Saturday night, and, thus, a different Sydney. Not as fluid or slick as on that memorable day.
The Italian is pushing 40 and his mobility, it would be kind to say, is not what it was. He still produced some of his trademark flicks and tricks and, when his side got its nose in front, he seemed galvanised, running at goal on a few occasions.
But his greatest value lies in his skills with a dead ball.
For the vast majority of this game that looked as if it would be the Sky Blues best route to goal, and he looked to have been unlucky in the shadow of half-time when his firmly struck free-kick was deflected away from goal by Victory defender Scott Galloway. The ball appeared to clearly strike the youngster's hand, but Gillett waved away claims for a penalty.
The hosts enjoyed the bulk of possession in this game, but that is only nine-tenths of the law.
Victory played some nice football and its approach work was, at times, easy enough on the eye. But it lacked the most crucial quality of all, penetration, in the first half.
James Troisi blasted high and wide after some neat interplay between Jimmy Jeggo and Gui Finkler, while just after the half-hour mark Kosta Barbarouses dragged a shot wide of Vedran Janjetovic’s post.
But for all its huffing and puffing Victory did not create too many gilt-edged openings.
Sydney was not without some chances of its own in a first half in which it was cast in the role of counter-attacker, Lawrence Thomas having to save well from Matt Thompson’s shot after Del Piero’s lay-off.
Sydney looked as though it might pull off an upset when Joel Chianese, left unmarked, was able to roll home the opening goal shortly after the restart when Thomas could only parry Ali Abbas’ shot into his path.
But the hosts egrouped well as the game opened up in the final half-hour.
When Milligan dispossessed Abbas just outside the Sydney penalty area and slid a pass through to Finkler who, in turn conveyed it to Troisi, the striker still had plenty to do but finished with aplomb to score off the post and even the ledger.
Troisi went close with a long range drive, Chianese fired over when Del Piero’s ambitious volley fell into his path, but neither side could add to its tally. The nervous finish to the season continues for both.