Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC: Rivals meet in grand final
The success or failure of Melbourne Victory's 2014-15 campaign will rest on the outcome of the A-League grand final against Sydney FC on Sunday, according to Gui Finkler.
Having assembled a talented squad and begun their preparations way back in July - four months before the season was due to begin - Kevin Muscat's team went on to win the Premiers' Plate by three points, before defeating local rivals Melbourne City to book a home decider.
And while some teams beaten in a grand final have consoled themselves with their status as premiership winners, Victory's Brazilian playmaker insisted the outcome of the clash with the Sky Blues at AAMI Park will define how the current crop of players are remembered.
"It becomes the whole season in 90 minutes," he said.
"When we started the pre-season we were looking to be involved in this game. And now it's two days to go … we've got to prepare physically. I think everyone is already prepared mentally.
"We've got to be more hungry [than Sydney] to win the game and be successful. Who will be more concentrated and better prepared is going to win."
Despite all attempts to maintain a normal atmosphere in the dressing room, a slight change in mood among the players was inevitable, although Finkler claimed it has been a positive shift.
"More excitement than tension," he said.
"Everyone [wanted] to be in the grand final. We are in the grand final. It's the biggest game in the season. Everyone is looking forward [to] Sunday."
The mind games, mostly from Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold, started as soon as the Sky Blues had beaten Adelaide United in their semi-final.
Muscat has tried his best to avoid entering into the exchanges.
The focus has instead been on Archie Thompson, the Victory stalwart who is coming out of contract and wants to play on but is yet to be offered a new deal.
Both teams are expected to go in unchanged from their semi-final teams, with Jason Geria replacing Leigh Broxham at right-back potentially the only move for Victory.
Sydney's speed out wide may prompt the move after Broxham struggled to deal with City winger Harry Novillo last week.
In Bernie Ibini and Chris Naumoff in particular, the Sky Blues have the pace that may cause Broxham problems once more.
Austria captain Marc Janko, this season's golden boot winner, could be crucial for Sydney but he needs to end a run of five A-League games without a goal.
Victory and Sydney have played out three draws this season, including two 3-3 thrillers.
The last time the teams were in the grand final was in 2010, when Sydney edged Victory in a penalty shoot-out to win their second championship.
Sydney and Victory are considered the A-League's biggest clubs, and they will be looking to join the Brisbane Roar as the equal most successful with three championships by winning on Sunday.