The most popular penalty miss ever?

It just had to be Kevin Muscat. Trust the A-League’s most reliable penalty taker to miss from 12 yards in a shootout and cost his side the championship.

Forget the fact that Shannon Cole and Marvin Angulo both saw their own spot-kicks saved; all the post-match talk in the wake of the A-League Grand Final surrounded the former Crystal Palace, Wolves, Millwall and Rangers player.

The self-proclaimed hard man of Australian football looked a picture of confidence as he strolled to the penalty spot, but Muscat saw his vital spot-kick come clattering back off the post, and the smirk on Sydney goalkeeper Clint Bolton’s face said much about the esteem that Victory’s tough-as-nails defender is held in.

The word “karma” was bandied about with liberal abandon in the post-match press, with several scribes pointing to Muscat’s penchant for thuggish behaviour as the reason for their schadenfreude.

Muscat claimed that he was “haunted” by the miss – but one man’s misery was another team’s joy, as Sydney FC celebrated wrapping up their second A-League title at the home of their most bitter rivals.

Muscat crestfallen - click to watch shootout video

The 44,560 fans who packed into the reconfigured Etihad Stadium created one of the most raucous atmospheres ever seen in the A-League, but they weren’t exactly treated to much champagne football as the match finished 1-1 in regulation time.

Victory suffered a bitter early blow when star striker Archie Thompson was carried from the pitch in agony after 15 minutes. Subsequent tests revealed that he will miss up to 12 months of action – including the World Cup.

It wasn’t until the hour mark that the match exploded into life, and it did so in contentious circumstances as Victory defender Rodrigo Vargas bundled home after Clint Bolton had spilled a Carlos Hernandez strike – only for an offside flag to come to Sydney’s rescue.

That decision appeared to rattle the home team, and they went behind barely 60 seconds later when Alex Brosque raced upfield and crossed for strike partner Mark Bridge to head home and put the Sky Blues in front.

Sydney tried desperately to cling on to their narrow lead, but for the second time in a number of weeks they were undone by a quickly taken free-kick, as Muscat crossed for Adrian Leijer to crash home an unstoppable header at the far post.

Several eagle-eyed fans pointed out that the ball was still in motion when Muscat swung over his free-kick, so perhaps there was a sense of justice when the Victory talisman became the first player to miss in the shootout.

As the shootout progressed, young Victory goalkeeper Mitch Langerak momentarily spared Muscat’s blushes when he pulled off a tremendous save from Shannon Cole, only to watch in disbelief as his counterpart Bolton later denied Costa Rican midfielder Marvin Angulo.

The stage was set for Sydney’s popular South Korean defender Byun Sung-Hwan to seal proceedings, and the veteran left-back duly drilled home to spark wild celebrations from the Sydney players and fans. The Sky Blues thus wrapped up the A-League’s version of “the double” – winning both the premiership and championship trophies in a hugely successful 2009-10 campaign.

It’ll be all change at the harbour city side for next season, with key men Clint Bolton, Simon Colosimo, Karol Kisel and John Aloisi all moving to pastures new, while veteran playmaker Steve Corica has retired.

That won’t bother the Sydney FC fans – for now, at least – with impressive Czech coach Vitezslav Lavicka having masterminded the title success the fans so desperately craved.

The question at hand is whether they can do it all again for a record third time, this win having drawn them level with Melbourne on two championships each (the only other team to have won being Newcastle Jets in 2008).

But for now it’s Sydney FC left celebrating, with the club from Australia’s most populous city deservedly claiming the 2009-10 A-League crown.

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