Saturday, March 20, 2010
Congratulations to Sydney FC, and especially to Vitezslav Lavicka. A double in his first season, after four years of mediocre football and mediocre coaches, is all the fans and the club board could have asked for. To win the grand final without your two most experienced players is an especially laudable achievement.
As finals go, it was a pretty good one: the thrilling second half largely made up for the awkward first period and the exercise in mutual exhaustion that constituted extra time. Penalties remain a rotten way of deciding such games, and few would disagree that the two teams deserved the status of joint champions in many ways. But Sydney's players kept their cool from twelve yards, and deserved their success in the shootout.
One has to feel a little sorry for Mitchell Langerak, who had a fine game, making three excellent saves during the match. Sadly, he showed some inexperience in the shootout, committing himself a little too early and thus making matters simpler for Hayden Foxe and Karol Kisel. His save from Shannon Cole was spectacular, but should not really have counted, given that he was well off his line before the ball was kicked.
It was a game in which the sides appeared very evenly matched...until they conceded. Both teams suffered from a serious case of goal fever when their opponents scored; Melbourne had begun the second half brightly, but fell apart at the back after being caught with a sucker-punch after a disallowed goal at the other end. Twice in the succeeding minutes, Sydney really should have gone further ahead, and it was only Chris Payne's horrific choke that kept the hosts in the match.
On Sydney's goal, incidentally: some might consider it poor sportsmanship to restart play so quickly after a disallowed goal, when some members of the opposition are still in a state of celebration. I tend to think that if the invalidation of the goal is signalled clearly and immediately (and it was in this case), the "conceding" side has every right to play on. A similar situation occurred in the notorious 1998 World Cup second round match between England and Argentina, when a Sol Campbell goal was ruled out, and Argentina rushed into attack while some England players were still crowded around the corner flag.
Sydney showed that they could suffer from goal fever as well. They looked composed, organised and full of confidence following Mark Bridge's header, but as soon as Adrian Leijer stole ahead of the Sydney defence to equalise, all was suddenly chaos. You could only describe Lavicka's side as limping to the end of normal time, and it was a tribute to their sense of purpose (and perhaps a sign of Carlos Hernandez's palpable tiredness as well) that they matched their opponents thereafter.
A good end, then, to a season in which the news has often been bad. The A-League is still alive and kicking, even if the problems appear to be multiplying.
But congratulations Sydney. Get behind your team!