Wednesday, 3 March 2004 12:00 AM
The two oldest clubs still remaining in the National Soccer League competition – Marconi Stallions and South Melbourne – will go head to head this weekend and will kick-start what is shaping as one of the most intriguing Championship series for years.
To show how truly national the NSL competition is, five states are represented in the six-team finals series, with NSW having two representatives. That means the vast majority of soccer supporters will be able to witness the cream of the crop in Australian domestic soccer, in what will be an intriguing and very hard fought series.
While Perth Glory and Parramatta Power have lived up to its early season favouritism by finishing first and second respectively, the battle for the final four places has ebbed and flowed throughout the home and away premiership season. Only four weeks from the end of the season did we get any indication as to whom they might be and it is fair to say that every team deserves to be there.
This weekend starts off with the 1st Leg’s of the Elimination Finals, with the Stallions (4th) and South (5th) facing off in Sydney, while later on Sunday night, Adelaide United will be hoping for another packed Hindmarsh Stadium when it takes on the surprise of the finalists – Brisbane Strikers.
It is only fitting that Marconi and South should make it to the last NSL finals series as we know it, as they are the only survivors from the inaugural season of the NSL back in 1977.
In that time they have become the most successful teams in the competitions history, with each winning four NSL Championships (along with Sydney City), while South Melbourne has won five premierships to Marconi’s four.
Prior to last season’s revamped finals series, they also both had the best finals records of any teams, but in their absence and each team playing at least ten games, Sydney Olympic and Adelaide City both surpassed them. Marconi has however contested the most finals of any club with this being their 16th appearance, while South is one behind them.
So it is rather ironic that these two should meet in a do-or-die elimination final and there is no doubt, both sides will not just want to win this leg to progress further in the finals series, but to get one up on their arch rival.
It is a clash that should have both club’s old supporters drooling at the mouth with the prospect of re-living many of the clashes between the two sides – all 54 of them. Funnily enough only three of these games have been finals matches, with the honours firmly in Marconi’s favour.
No Marconi fan will ever forget the last finals match between the pair and most of South’s fans won’t want to be reminded of it. It is the Major Semi Final of the 1992-93 season and Marconi has returned from Melbourne with a surprise 1-0 lead in the first leg. Nobody however could have predicted what was going to happen in the return leg at Parramatta Stadium.
Ironically, Marconi’s current coach Jean-Paul De Marigny was a member of the Marconi side that day and scored an early that helped Marconi on its way to the record 7-0 win. To this day it remains the highest ever finals win and is the worst loss ever recorded by South Melbourne in the National League.
Three players – Paul Trimboli, Con Boutsianis and Mehmet Durakovic – from that South Melbourne team on that day will be remarkably backing up (or most likely to) for Sunday afternoon’s game.
Momentum going into Sunday’s game is firmly in Marconi’s favour and they were a tad unlucky not come away from Perth with a win.
South on the other hand let a golden opportunity to finish in second spot slip as they suddenly lost four straight games and the draw in the final round will have hardly done much for confidence.
But as we all know finals is a completely different ball game to the premiership season and this is when champion teams come to the fore. South has the team capable of going all the way, but will it be enough to overcome a Marconi team riding high, that remains to be seen.
The second elimination final in Adelaide features two teams that confounded every critic to make the finals.
Adelaide United’s performance has been nothing short of sensational both on and off the field. The demise of Adelaide City, a month from the start of the season, saw the hurried birth of Adelaide United, with former Brisbane Strikers coach John Kosmina, hastily asked to put a squad together and compete in the upcoming season.
While most of the players came from the old Adelaide City squad, some had already flown the coup and Kosmina was forced to look locally for players to make up the squad.
Starting their season in Round 5, Kosmina reverted Carl Veart (pictured left)back to playing as a striker and the move worked a treat in the first game of the season with his goal securing a memorable win over the Strikers, who just happen to be Adelaide’s opponent on Sunday night.
That set the seen for the rest of the season and a strong run home saw them push and ultimately achieve third position. This coupled with the average crowd for Adelaide games of over 12,000, makes it a remarkable season and has given everybody a great deal of confidence in the resurgence of the game at the top level in this country.
Brisbane was one of the teams that most experts believed would be fighting for the wooden spoon this season, rather than a place in the top-six.
The fact that its coach Stuart McLaren was also a player in the team, meant not many held too much hope for them, but a close knit squad soon made everybody sit up and take notice. So much so that they were never out of the top-six all season and had enough points in the bag, to even lose its last four games and still make it.
However the poor end of season form is not a good sign for McLaren and his team, with injuries starting to play its role and the squad’s depth being tested.
Their last appearance in the finals ended with successive losses to South Melbourne two years ago and for those players still at the club, they will be looking to turn that around. For that to happen however they will need a good performance in Adelaide and that will not be an easy task.
So we are set for a fascinating finals series and this weekend’s two matches should provide the perfect start. Get out there and enjoy it.
NSL Championships Series – Week 1
Sunday March 7, 2004
Elimination Finals – 1st Leg
Marconi Stallions v South Melbourne – Marconi Stadium – 3.45pm*
Adelaide United v Brisbane Strikers – Hindmarsh Stadium – 7.00pm (7.30pm AEST & 8.30pm QLD time)
* SBS will show the Marconi and South Melbourne game LIVE, with the broadcast coverage starting at 3.30pm.