The 2013 A-League Finals Series kicks-off at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium this weekend as the Victory play host to Perth Glory on Friday Night. After a year long hiatus, Victory is back playing in the finals and will be out to continue their season with a win against the Glory in this do or die fixture. If Perth, last year’s beaten grand finalist, are to claim their maiden A-League crown they will have to do it against teams that finished higher than them on the ladder and all away from home. It will be a tough task for the Glory but they will be delighted to start their finals campaign against a team they beat away from home only two weeks ago. For Melbourne this is a chance to get back into the swing of the finals in front of a big home crowd at the Etihad.
Perth did it the hard way to qualifying for the finals with a hard thought 1-1 draw with Adelaide United last weekend. Needing a point to claim the final spot in this year’s finals, Perth was caught in a mountain of pressure as Adelaide equalized in the first minute of injury time. With literally the last kick of the game, Adelaide had a chance to deny the Glory the opportunity to go one better than they did last year with a free kick and a shot on goal. Dario Vidosic put in a ball destined for the back of the net that brought out a fine save from Danny Vukovic which secured the Glory’s place in this game. Without the save from Vukovic, Sydney FC could well be playing in this game instead of the Glory, with that in mind Perth will be in no mood to let this chance slip by with a defeat against the Victory.
Melbourne on the other hand had an easier proposition in the final round of the season with an away trip to Wellington to play the wooden spoon destined Phoenix. Victory was in cruise control after they got away to a 2-0 lead early in the second half. Phoenix, who were anxious not to get the dreaded wooden spoon came back from the dead to equalize the game with two goals in two minutes to breathe life into the game. Victory found a winner in the 85th minute that commended the New Zealand outfit to the bottom of the ladder. In a delicious piece of irony, it was Archie Thompson’s goal that spared main rival Melbourne Heart the indignity of finishing with the spoon.
This match is a fitting way to start this year’s finals series with the two time champions in Victory taking on the side that came so close to claiming their maiden crown last year. Perth don’t have to go to back far to remember their last win in Melbourne as they got the better of Victory in the penultimate round of the A-League season. While Perth certainly outplayed Melbourne in that game and deserved the three points, Victory were greatly undermanned and Perth only secured the points with a last minute goal. Melbourne’s international trio will be in the side to play Perth this weekend and will be greatly appreciated as Victory is a much better side with the two. Shane Smeltz is still in doubt for this game after unwittingly participating in a Jujitsu demonstration with a New Caledonia defender in a World Cup Qualifier match two weeks ago that resulted Smeltz needing 15 stitches. Just like Rojas and Thompson to their clubs, Smeltz is vitally important to Perth and will need him on the field if they are to claim an upset in this game.
Apart from reaching the Grand Final last year, Perth doesn’t have a great deal of experience in finals. Victory on the other hand has players who not only have experience in play-offs but that have tasted grand final success. It has been some time since Victory have tasted Grand Final success and this year is their best chance to claim the silverware since their last triumph in 2009. Victory’s form hasn’t been up to what they expect in recent weeks but once the whistle sounds on Friday night to start their finals campaign, you can guarantee they will lift their game for the occasion. Ever since Ange Postecoglou became manger of Melbourne Victory the aim was to get the club back to its championship winning ways, and it all starts on Friday night. You can bet Ange will do all he can to get the boys fired up for a crack at the trophy.