The Brisbane Roar thrilled the Suncorp Stadium crowd on Sunday with another late fight-back in an A-League Grand Final to claim a third title in four years.
It is time, then, to acknowledge this Roar team as the A-League’s greatest side.
The southern media (and by that I mean Melbourne- and Sydney-based outlets) dominate football discussion in Australia, and it often feels as though Brisbane’s extraordinary success gets glossed over somewhat as they focus on the narratives surrounding Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory, Melbourne Heart and the Western Sydney Wanderers. Even Adelaide United, with their flamboyant Spanish coach, seem to garner more column space and air time than the high-flying Roar.
Each of those sides were worth talking about over the course of the season, no doubt.
The Victory, often lauded as Australia’s biggest club, suffered the loss of their manager early in the campaign but fought on admirably to come within one game of the Grand Final.
Sydney FC’s mediocrity for much of the campaign was interrupted by moments of brilliance, and the type of gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair that always accompanies the glamour side. Much ado about nothing, then, as far as the Sky Blues were concerned.
The story of Melbourne Heart’s takeover by Manchester City deserved massive play, and could have a monumental effect on the league in years to come, while it was entertaining to watch Adelaide suddenly click as a side and race up the ladder.
The Wanderers, meanwhile, also demand attention for the continuation of their astonishing ascension to the peak (or close to it) of domestic football in a short time, and of course the fanatic levels of support they have garnered.
Tony Popovic’s side in particular are the darlings of the football media, even more so for the criticism their fans receive from journalists from other codes, and by the time the finals rolled around, they had risen to overall favourites in many pundits’ eyes.
Brisbane received praise after winning both the semi-final and Grand Final, but in both cases, much of the focus was on the losing sides.
It is true, the Victory should have been awarded a late penalty when Matt Smith felled Mark Milligan in the box, but comments from Kevin Muscat, duly latched onto by the media, that the decision had cost his side a Grand Final berth were a vast exaggeration. The Roar had dominated the game up until a hairy final five minutes and were certainly not undeserved winners, even if they got lucky on the call. Had the penalty been awarded, it would first have to have been converted, then the Victory would have had to defeat their hosts in extra time or on penalties. On the run of play to that point, there’s a strong argument that Brisbane were the more likely side to go through.
Similarly when the Wanderers were defeated in the decider, there were protests, albeit more muted about the referee, as well as claims that the trophy would have been travelling south had Nikolai Topor-Stanley not left the field through injury and forced a shuffle in personnel. Again, this is a valid hypothesis, but it takes much away from the way Brisbane were able to exploit the misfortune in a way that the Wanderers were not when the Roar lost an influential player of their own in Luke Brattan.
To glance at the overall picture tells a clearer story of the season, rather than focussing on the odd disputed referee’s call. Brisbane won the league by a whopping 10 points. They then had the better of the semi against the Victory and beat the Melbourne side for the third time in four attempts this season to progress to the final.
The Grand Final was a tight affair, which the Wanderers could claim to have edged in the first half without creating any clear chances. Despite going ahead, they could not withstand the pressure put on them by the Roar’s talented midfield, led by Thomas Broich, and succumbed to a late goal, and then another in extra time. It was the second time Brisbane had beaten the Wanderers this season, with the other two games ending in draws.
It is very hard, objectively, to say that Brisbane were not deserving winners of the A-League crown, even if much of the talk is about the other contenders.
While the Victory might remain the ‘biggest’ team in the competition, while Sydney FC are the ‘Hollywood’ side and the Wanderers are the fairytale boys, it should be recognised that Brisbane are far and away the top dogs in Australian football.
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