The semi-finals of the A-League Finals Series served up two tantalising matches for fans and neutrals alike, with both a Melbourne Derby and yet another heated match between Sydney FC and Adelaide United to decide who would challenge for the A-League Championship.
Melbourne Victory 3-0 Melbourne City
(18′ Berisha, 30′ Barbarouses, 87′ Thompson)
The Melbourne Derby lived up to its billing and standing-room-only crowd of 50,873 on Friday night, as league premiers Melbourne Victory clinically finished off their cross-town rivals.
Early dominance paid off for Kevin Muscat’s men as a cross was delivered from the overlapping run inside the box of Leigh Broxham onto the head of Besart Berisha at the far post for the marquee man to continue his form of scoring in finals.
Brazilian playmaker Gui Finkler started the counter attack for the second goal, sending the ball to Fahid Ben Khalfallah on the left, whose first time cross into the centre of the penalty area found New Zealand international Kosta Barbarouses in space to volley into the top corner, leaving Tando Velaphi in no-man’s land.
Continual attempts from Melbourne City failed to find the target, with attacks often funneled to Harry Novillo and the majority of shots wide of the post and rarely testing Lawrence Thomas between the sticks.
Melbourne City began the second half by attempting to close the space that allowed Melbourne Victory to transition into attack so freely in the first 45 minutes, but an injury to Aaron Mooy left John van’t Schipp’s side struggling to contain the match after the fringe Socceroo midfielder appeared to injure his hamstring after striking the ball for a pass. David Williams was also forced to leave the pitch with an injury that left City struggling to maintain any possible rhythm.
City guest player Novillo ended his stint with the club to finish the hat trick of injury woes, while the substitution of Khalfallah for veteran striker Archie Thompson guaranteed Victory would finish off the match in their favour.
The ageless Victory star poked home the club’s third and final goal of the night with three minutes left in regulation, when Berisha’s free header from a Finkler corner was rebounded into his path by the gloves of a diving Velaphi, who was given no chance to get back up to make the second save.
Sydney FC 4-1 Adelaide United
(Ibini 19′, Brosque 45’+1 & 47′, Naumoff 90′ / Goodwin 74′)
A brace either side of half time from captain Alex Brosque sealed a 4-1 victory for Sydney FC and progression to the 2015 A-League Grand Final where they will face arch-rivals Melbourne Victory.
Bernie Ibini struck first for Sydney FC after Chris Naumoff got in behind the Adelaide defence and cut the ball back for Ibini to smash home past Eugene Galekovic. Adelaide responded well and should have been level ten minutes later when a first time ball from Jimmy Jeggo put Cirio through one-on-one with Vedran Janjetovic, but the Spaniard’s shot was weak and straight at the keeper.
Fellow Spaniard Pablo Sanchez was denied by the woodwork minutes later, with his free kick clipping the top of the crossbar to further frustrate the visitors who were gaining ascendancy in the match.
They were left to rue those missed chances when Brosque struck in first half stoppage time with a stunning backheel that beat Galekovic at the near post and put Sydney well on their way to the Grand Final.
That Grand Final berth was all but secured two minutes into the second half when poor defending from Adelaide allowed Brosque to pounce and give Sydney a 3-0 lead. Once again Adelaide wouldn’t lie down and they dominated the following 40 minutes, creating enough chances to get themselves back in the game, but were let down by poor finishing.
They did get one goal back through Craig Goodwin, who ran at the Sydney defence and saw his shot squeeze under Janjetovic to give his side a glimmer of hope with 15 minutes remaining. Minutes later Nigel Boogaard’s header went within inches of setting up a grandstand finish in a moment to perfectly encapsulated Adelaide’s evening: so close, yet so far.
Sydney hammered the final nail into the coffin when Terry Antonis’ clever pass found Naumoff who coolly finished past Galekovic to the delight of the 27,000 home fans in attendance.
The Grand Final between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC will be held on Sunday, May 17 at AAMI Park.
(Recaps contributed by Paul Williams and Ryan Steele)