Popovic ready for derby revenge
Wanderers striker Brendon Santalab was at the centre of a month-long race row investigation after the last derby at Allianz Stadium in March over comments allegedly made to Sydney FC’s Ali Abbas.
As the match neared an end, with Sydney winning 3-1, Abbas believed he heard Santalab make a slur about his race, colour and religion which sparked a furious reaction from the Iraqi-born player.
After the match he told Fox Sports: “I come from a different country, I respect everyone here - I should get it back.
“If I don't get it back, I'm going to attack. That's what happened. If people attack religion, if people attack culture - I'm against that. We need to stop that.”
Santalab denied the claims and Football Federation Australia eventually dropped the case through a lack of evidence because of the crowd noise at the time.
But tensions are sure to be high with both players available to play in this weekend’s clash.
Today though Popovic ruled out any fears of tempers flaring this weekend or giving his players any instructions about keeping their emotions in check, deflecting any questions with a curt: “No.”
The club is going in to the match on the back of last season’s derby defeat at Allianz and a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Melbourne Victory last weekend.
However Popovic shrugged off concerns and insisted the team simply had a bad day on their opening match of the new season.
“We don’t want to keep talking about last week, that’s done,” Popovic said. “We’re ready for this game, we’ve prepared for it and we’re looking forward to it.
“Every player can’t wait - they’re special games. Derbies are different. Not just the atmosphere, but the intensity of the game is different.”
He dismissed speculation that the club has been distracted by their coming Asian Champions League final next weekend and was instead focused on Sydney and their new-look line up.
“Our motivation is to win the derby game,” he said. “Sydney have improved, they are expected to be at the top each year – and maybe this year they will achieve that.
“We are well aware of Marc Janko’s strengths but they have other players with strengths too. You have to be aware of it but you don;t have to fear it either.
“We have our own strengths we want to play to as well and we know that if we do that we are in with a chance of a win.”
New Wanderers signing Victor Saba is expected to be on the bench again this weekend with a start still possibly six to eight weeks away as he builds up his match fitness.
Socceroo Nikolai Topor-Stanley is also a doubt to start, training by himself yesterday after he arrived back from national team duty in the Middle East.
New signing Nikita Rukavytsya will definitely miss the match with his international paperwork yet to come through on his switch back to the A-League, although Popovic insisted he was never expecting him to start this match.
But Popovic and the club are determined to make up for the agony of the last defeat.
Popovic added: “It’s never nice to lose any game and of course a derby hurts a bit more and hurts our fans – but the next time we played them, we made up for it and beat them.
“We’ll look to do the same tomorrow…”