Saturday, September 12, 2009


Battle of the Sky Blues

The curtain comes down on the NSW Premier League season tomorrow, with the Sutherland Sharks contesting the grand final against Marconi at CUA Stadium in Penrith.

Before I move on to these two teams, mention must be made of the side which dominated the regular season and justly claimed the premiership. Sydney United were a team transformed this season, and Ante Milicic showed outstanding promise as a senior coach. As some have already observed, the real test might come for Milicic when he can no longer call on his own services as a player, but that is not to detract from his 2009 accomplishments. When they were cruising at 2-0 against Sutherland in the major semi-final, few would have predicted the stunning turnaround that sunk United in that game, and sapped their spirit for the following week's encounter with Marconi.

Although the two teams contesting the decider both take the field in a home strip of light blue, that is where the similarities end. Most of the Sutherland side is of Anglo-Celtic or Greek descent, and there have been few sweeping changes to the line-up over the last couple of years. Marconi, by contrast, are a truly multicultural outfit, unrecognisable from the team which faltered in the league in 2008.

Their two Ivorian youngsters, midfield schemer Vamana Diarra and exuberant winger Ousmane Toure, have added plenty of allure to the competition this season. Slightly less impressive has been the Iraqi refugee Ali Abbas Al-Hilfi, but he too has had his moments. Up front, the absence of the suspended Ben Vidaic on Sunday might not affect Marconi unduly, given the presence of the hard-working Alex Canak and Erick Anabalon, who has made some vital contributions in recent weeks.

Sutherland's season looked set for a grim end after a traumatic 4-3 home loss to Bankstown; Robbie Stanton's side had been 3-1 up with only fifteen minutes to play, and the young coach's impromptu press conference was riddled with expletives. To his and his side's great credit, they recovered well in the succeeding weeks, and their young attacking midfielder Panny Nikas has come on in leaps and bounds, creating and scoring goals with increasing regularity. His battle with Diarra and the canny Nahuel Arrarte on Sunday will be fascinating to watch.

On the Sutherland right, Jim Bakis and Michael Katz pose constant danger, and Marconi may need to reinforce this area somewhat. Conversely, on the other flank, Toure will be hard to stop at times.

Sutherland will be the sentimental favourites after their grand final loss last season, but the game should be a close one. The key man, in my view, is Arrarte. When he can impose himself on the midfield and run the show from there, Marconi usually win. On his off-days, the Bossley Park side can look a little callow and rudderless.

If you're in the area, come down and enjoy the show. I confidently predict that you'll see a better display of football than was provided in last night's execrable Adelaide v. Central Coast game.

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