Sydney the first losers in confusing A-League finals
No sooner had Sydney FC wrapped up the Premiership plate than their world came crashing down with the news that playmaker Steve CoricaÃ¢ÂÂs career had come to a premature end.
Former Leicester, Wolves and Walsall midfielder Corica announced his impending retirement in the week leading up to SydneyÃ¢ÂÂs premiership showdown with Melbourne Victory, so the Sky Blues were understandably keen to send him off a winner.
However, Corica played little part in the top-of-the-table Valentine's Day clash as he limped from the field with a serious hamstring injury just 10 minutes in Ã¢ÂÂ although Sydney still managed to conjure a 2-0 win that saw them crowned premiers at VictoryÃ¢ÂÂs expense.
Wonder strikes from Slovakian midfielder Karol Kisel and former Socceroos frontman John Aloisi proved major talking points, but all Melbourne were talking about after the match was Terry McFlynnÃ¢ÂÂs tackle on Robbie Kruse.
Ã¢ÂÂIf that was Kevin Muscat who made that tackle it would have been all over the papers,Ã¢ÂÂ raged Victory coach Ernie Merrick Ã¢ÂÂ despite the fact that McFlynnÃ¢ÂÂs X-rated challenge was in fact all over the papers, so much so that the Northern Irishman publicly apologised to Kruse the next day.
The bone-crunching challenge ruled Kruse out for the rest of the season and spurred furtive talk that Victory were determined to Ã¢ÂÂget squareÃ¢ÂÂ in the first leg of their major semi-final with Sydney just four days later.
The threats ultimately proved unfounded, although Victory still managed a 2-1 semi-final win thanks in part to an opening goal from man of the moment Nik Mrdja Ã¢ÂÂ who was later sent off and will subsequently miss the second leg through suspension.
The controversial new arrival pounced on some poor Sydney defending to open the scoring early on, before Costa Rican maestro Carlos Hernandez Ã¢ÂÂ who was named the A-LeagueÃ¢ÂÂs Player Of The Season earlier in the week Ã¢ÂÂ added a second.
Sydney hauled themselves back into the tie through a deflected John Aloisi strike just before half-time, with some help from an Etihad Stadium surface that looked suspiciously like the venue of an upcoming beach volleyball tournament.
The disgraceful state of the pitch wasnÃ¢ÂÂt the only contentious issue in what was another drama-charged week, after Victory revealed that they had considered pulling out of the finals series altogether.
Since the A-League is out of sync with much of the Asian football calendar, last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs champions Victory kick off their 2010 Asian Champions League campaign away at Beijing Guoan on February 23.
Had they topped the league standings this season, Victory would have qualified automatically for the next edition of the Champions League Ã¢ÂÂ prompting club officials to claim that they had considered withdrawing from the current A-League finals.
Doing so would have triggered an almighty protest from FFA headquarters, but in the meantime it has once again kicked off the debate over whether the A-League should revert to a first-past-the-post system to decide its champions.
One team that could benefit from the chaos is Gold Coast United, who will field a settled squad in the finals despite losing an appeal to have the five-match suspension of niggling defender Steve Pantelidis reduced.
On paper, Gold Coast arguably have more depth than any other club in the league, and should they see off Newcastle Jets in their opening sudden-death playoff match, they will then take on either Wellington Phoenix or Perth Glory in the next game.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs convoluted, itÃ¢ÂÂs confusing and in the end, no one is really sure who the real champions are anyway.
But the finals series has rolled around again, and after topping the table to be crowned Ã¢ÂÂpremiersÃ¢ÂÂ at the end of the regular season, Sydney FC still have plenty to do if they are to finish as Ã¢ÂÂchampionsÃ¢ÂÂ in the confusing world of the A-League.
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