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The A-League's night of reckoning

Jair Butler

Jair Butler

Written on Friday, 07 October 2011 08:51

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Saturday night's heavyweight A-League bout between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC is being billed as one of Australia's biggest domestic football matches.

It may also prove its most important.

Beyond the football itself, and the wonderment of seeing current Socceroos representing their respective new, local masters, is the strongest pull yet for theatre-going fans to pledge allegiance to the Australian domestic league, and their local team.

As even the most ardent of football supporters will attest, the A-League has struggled since its inception to tap into Australia's endemic passion for sporting competition. Instead, it has plodded from season to season with little growth of its fan base.

The league's necessary evil - its seven-year broadcast deal with Fox Sports - has prevented reach into the majority of homes, and mainstream media attention remains at the behest of print editors and television news directors alike. The result: Australian youngsters are better adept at reciting a Manchester United starting XI than the star signing of the Mariners, Glory or Roar. In other words, a disaster.

Enter Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton, two of our finest internationals who have come home to play in the two biggest markets, Melbourne and Sydney, respectively.

Since their arrival, membership sales have boomed, TV cameras require new batteries, newspaper pages are now too small to print everything on. The A-League finally has some validity in the public eye.

Saturday evening will indeed be a momentous occasion in the history of domestic football - the numbers will say so - but for those who venture to Etihad Stadium for the first time in October what aspects of the game will have them coming back in January?

The answer, funnily enough, is questions:

Will either goalkeeper remember to put reliability with their kit bag?

Neither Sydney's Liam Reddy nor Victory's most recent signing, former Socceroo Ante Covic, have made names for themselves in single-handedly thwarting opposition forwards in recent years. Some, particularly of The Cove, would suggest that Reddy's rugby-league playing brother Joel would be a more capable selection in goal, whereas Covic perfected the death-stare during his time at Newcastle, and would have met few - even deserved - interjections by his fellow defenders. A 6'3", now 36 year old monster was always going to be an interesting choice for Victory as cover for the injured yet spritely Tando Velaphi.

Is the new-look Sky-Blue defence enough to quell possibly the greatest on-paper attack the A-League has yet seen?

Now, paper is quite versatile. It can be folded into the perfect shape, colored to the heart's desire... but can easily be torn to pieces. Sydney has replaced its angry Swiss Stephan Keller with vastly-experienced Dutchman Pascal Bosschaart, and has added Jamie Coyne and Michael Beauchamp, both first-choice centre-halves at their respective teams last term. Pitted against a starting lineup boasting of Thompson, Allsopp, Solorzano, Rojas, Hernandez and of course Kewell himself, the job won't be an easy one away from home in Round One, but if anyone can mastermind it, coach Vitezslav Lavicka can. Like him or loathe him, Sydney fans will be quietly confident. Czech mute.

Could Mehmet's 'beautiful football' really echo the European greats?

Upon taking the Victory reins from Ernie Merrick soon-ish after the 2010/11 season, Mehmet Durakovic expressed a desire to shift his side's build-up play from the tired-but-effective 'long ball and press' to more technically-proficient interplay, smoother similarly encourage a much smoother transition from possession to delay. Only time will tell whether his summer spent recruiting players to fit his system and re-educating the older dogs will prove successful, but one can't help but admire his audacity. Hopefully the football follows suit.

What should we expect from Karol Kisel's comeback?

This guy should never have been allowed to leave Sydney after its Championship win in 2009/10, and the proof will be in his first half hour of work. Kisel's willingness to exhaust himself playing box-to-box is simply a sight to behold. He can withstand the physicality of Australian football unlike so many of his European-born peers before him, has a great passing range for a midfielder typically found pressing toward the wide channels whilst in possession, and is not shy in appeasing the masses by unleashing a long-range shot at goal. Worth the admission price alone.

Is playing in a navy blue shirt in Melbourne anywhere as interesting without Kevin Muscat?

In a word, no. The former captain will be an enormous loss to the Victory on the field, but perhaps a greater loss to opposition fans off it. Baying for the head of... Petar Franjic? Never.

The result?

A victory to Melbourne's sporting public, those with Foxtel subscriptions, and most importantly, those with a curiosity for competition.

The real result?

Victory by the odd goal in five.

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