Sydney FC have won their fourth A-League championship with a 4-1 penalty shootout win over premiers Perth Glory in front of a record crowd at Optus Stadium on Sunday.
56,371 packed into the new stadium, the highest ever attendance at an A-League grand final, where an initial officiating blunder seemed to have impeded Steve Corica’s march to a first A-League crown as a coach.
But Reza Ghoochannejhad struck the winning penalty after Andrew Redmayne had saved two consecutive Perth strikes to give the Sky Blues a record-equalling fourth championship.
Two headers produced the best early chances, both going Perth’s way when Joel Chianese’s glancing header flashed wide of the right-hand post and Dino Djulbic’s effort was tipped over the bar by Redmayne.
That was the best chance for either team in a tense opening quarter of the match, until controversy struck for the second year running.
Adam Le Fondre seemed to have given the visitor’s the lead but was denied by an offside flag against Michael Zullo on the cross. Replay’s pointed towards the left back being onside but VAR bizarrely failed to intervene.
Another headed effort came from Diego Castro as Redmayne flew to his left to keep Perth at bay early on in the second half with the Glory setting out to control the game against the Sky Blues.
Neither team was able to break the deadlock after 90 minutes, and indeed after another half hour as the grand final went to penalties. Substitute Andy Keogh was the first to miss in the shootout as Redmayne’s antics on the line worked, reaching right to keep the Irishman’s kick out.
Brendan Santalab tried the Panenka with Glory’s next kick but Redmayne stood still to take an easy catch, allowing Reza to convert the final spot kick and win Sydney their third A-League championship.
VAR fails on the big stage again
Twelve months after the officials were unable to see the camera angle that would have shown James Donachie to be offside in the build-up to Kosta Barbarouses’ winning goal, the A-League grand final has had yet another VAR catastrophe.
In a game that was largely starved of real goalscoring opportunities and excitement, this was the one moment, the moment that would have Sydney the game, and on the biggest stage of the season, incompetency prevailed.
Steve Corica was rightly incensed when he saw the replay appear on the stadium screens and earned himself a booking from referee Sean Evans.
The VAR has been introduced globally to eradicate ambiguity and officiating errors in football, but has been met with nothing but backlash and criticism, especially in this country, and it is easy to see why.
Justice was ultimately served as Sydney went on to win the penalty shootout, but these incidents simply cannot keep happening in games, let alone in the biggest game of all.
Maiden championship evades Popovic
Tony Popovic burst onto the scene with the Western Sydney Wanderers, leading them to a premiership in their debut season in 2012-13, followed by a second-place finish the following season and then incredible Asian Champions League-winning campaign in 2014.
The only thing about this was the fact that the Wanderers missed out on the toilet seat on both occasions, losing in back to back grand finals when they were favoured to win, certainly in the first as they entered the decider as the first-placed side.
Coming to a Perth side in turmoil after long-time manager Kenny Lowe was sacked after the club missed out on finals, the former Socceroo had a huge task ahead of him and achieved one of the best seasons in A-League history.
The likes of Castro, Chris Ikonomidis and Andy Keogh have had stellar seasons in purple, with the three at the back system incorporating Socceroos calibre players such as Matthew Spiranovic and Jason Davidson creating one of the most impressive sides the country has seen.
Their mix of proven A-League quality and exuberant youth means that their success is more than sustainable, adding to their current crop of talent Bruno Fornaroli for next season along with further pulling power as a result of their regular season success.
Popovic is a fantastic coach, has been known to be a terrific man manager and leader both on and off the pitch, but he must figure out how to get over the line in grand finals as soon as possible.
Corica follows in Arnold’s footsteps
When Graham Arnold departed Sydney for the Socceroos job after last year’s World Cup, it was widely expected that the Sky Blues would not be quite as good without their legendary coach, and that was largely proven true during the regular season.
Corica’s early days were not all sunshine and rainbows as they battled an inconsistent beginning to the campaign and suffered defeat in the FFA Cup final at the hands of Adelaide United.
Even the end of the season was far from the dominance the Sky Blues have become accustomed to, with a loss against the disappointing Brisbane Roar and a draw the following week at home against wooden spooners Central Coast Mariners in February halting their charge for a top two spot.
But two big wins against Melbourne Victory and Perth ultimately saw them earn the week off in the finals even after losing to Newcastle on the final day, and their jaw-dropping win over their Melbourne rivals set them up for grand final success.
Having been a legend at the club as a player and then playing understudy to Arnold during his reign, the shift from right hand man to the manager’s seat was really a seamless one, with the philosophies of the club ingrained in the 46-year-old and the players already.
Corica is still some distance away from being mentioned in the same breath as the Arnold’s and Postecoglu’s of Australian football, but a championship to his name in his first season as a manager will do absolutely no harm to his growing reputation in the country.