Midfield maestro: Thomas Broich will pull the strings for Brisbane Roar. Photo: Getty Images
Some teams are so close in potential that it becomes very difficult to make predictions, such that we end up sitting on the fence with an almighty paling sticking out of our rear end.
What follows, then, is my best attempt to remove what is admittedly a rather sizeable piece of protruding timber, so here it goes.
The Roar played very well against the Victory last week and put paid to Wanderers’ hopes that their well earned rest had damaged their match rhythm and possibilities in Sunday's decider.
Ready: Roar players will have to get past Shinji Ono, a Wanderers star. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Their start wasn’t brilliant, but once they got under way and their passing range was re-found, and with the galactic Thomas Broich straight back into the groove, they created enough chances to win the game several times over.
If anything, the Wanderers might hold on to the idea that the Roar’s incisiveness and efficiency in attack was slightly down, having wasted great situations they would otherwise normally capitalise on, although this remains to be seen as Besart Berisha stuck away a goal of individual creation and will be hot to trot.
The Roar has won both grand finals at Suncorp (2011 and 2012), so we cannot speak of whether they can overcome the often suffocating pressure of a home decider. They have proven their credentials in this aspect and the starting team has a number of players who were involved in those successes.
A-League 2014 Grand Final preparations
Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic and Nikolai Topor-Stanley with Brisbane Roar captain Matt Smith and coach Mike Mulvey at a media conference ahead of the A-League 2014 Grand Final. Photo: Michelle Smith
Even though their mid-season home record was questionable, and their away form won Roar the league title, they corrected this in the run home and last week put to rest any lingering questions.
The Roar are accustomed to big crowds, and big occasions, and have players in their ranks who perform on any stage, so the Wanderers will have to perform to their maximum to overturn the bitter aftertaste of last year.
It is also of interest that the Roar lost to Western Sydney in last year’s semi-finals after they fell foul of a tightly compacted midfield that disrupted their passing football. They will come into this game with a clearer plan of how to combat the suffocating pressure they will face.
Three matches between the teams this season tends to indicate the Roar had already learnt their lesson. A win and two draws give the league champions the upper hand, and leave the Wanderers having to do something they have been unable to achieve since last year in order to lift the trophy, that is, beat the competition’s most formidable side.
Big players define big matches and here, both teams are blessed.
Broich and Berisha face Youssouf Hersi and Shinji Ono, with a cast of quality supporters around them. Berisha sent the Victory packing, as did Hersi to the Mariners, and either could decide the match on Sunday.
So, too, could the keepers of importance in finals games – but how do we split Ante Covic, a huge presence and component of the Wanderers’ success, and Michael Theo, the most decorated A-League player, who carries trophies with him wherever he goes?
Neither can be counted on to make a mistake, and both have the strength of mentality to handle the most white hot pressure.
It will be key who scores first. If it is the Roar, the Wanderers will need to open further and the speed of Dimitri Petratos, Berisha and Henrique will be difficult to contain.
If it’s the Wanderers, the Roar will continue to play their way, but will face an even tighter unit.
The Wanderers feel that, psychologically, they have learnt from last season how to handle the big occasion, whereas the Roar already know what it takes.
If pushed, I would say Broich holds the key to the game and the Wanderers’ hopes rest in stopping him.
Whatever happens, the occasion grows in magnitude every year. Capacity crowd, unprecedented television exposure, the two best teams facing off, wondrous marquee players and two opposing styles.
The game of football is healthy, growing and a wonderful exclamation mark on the season will be stamped tonight.
For my part, and like many of you no doubt, I’ll be carrying a giant paling all the way to Brisbane, and may the best team prevail.