Saturday, 6 March 2004 12:00 AM
By Michael Tsoukalis
With the regular season over and the business end of the season about to begin, South Melbourne find themselves pitted against the in-form Marconi Stallions for the first round of the finals.
After opting to delay 3 regular season games due to Olyroo commitments, Marconi coach Jean Paul De Marigny was rewarded for his decision with a sterling end to the regular season. Marconi went on a barnstorming run that saw them skyrocket up the NSL ladder to finish the regular season in 4th place.
Conversely South’s end to the regular season was anything but eye-catching. In the last 5 matches of the season the Stuart Munro coached South dropped 4 consecutive games and finally stopped their rot with a disappointing nil-all draw away to Sydney Olympic in the final round of the season. Throughout their form slump the Albert Park based club has struggled for desire and passion resulting in a sharp fall from grace. At one point in the season South had topped the ladder, however, their late season form slump saw them finish a distant 5th. That said, it must be noted that out of the 4 consecutive late season losses, South’s best performance came against Marconi where a luckless South went down 1-0 after putting on a highly competitive performance.
The squads named reveal that both clubs will be fielding near full strength sides. Notable omissions for Marconi include inspirational Captain Brad Maloney who is out with a hamstring injury, whilst burly ex-Sydney Olympic forward Jeromy Harris will also miss due to an ankle complaint. For South, club legend Mehmet Durakovic – who announced his retirement during the week – will miss once again because of the hamstring injury that has kept him out for a number of games throughout the campaign. Youngster Carl Recchia has a foot injury that will also see him take no part in Sunday’s encounter.
Injuries aside, both teams have key players who can turn a game on its head. Marconi youngsters Nick Carle and Alex Brosque are two shining examples of the array of immense talent this country possesses; Carle in particular has had a superb season, scoring plenty of goals and providing regular assists. A great strength of the Stallions is the experience they possess all over the park, in Simon Bell, Luke Casserly, Dominic Longo, Angelo Costanzo, Chad Gibson, Brendan Renaud and Joe Spiteri Marconi have a squad littered with seasoned NSL professionals who have done the job at the highest level in Australia for many seasons.
Conversely, on paper, South appears to have a very strong squad, however, the South faithful will be desperately hoping for an injection of form from their players who have been well below their best for the past month. Crucial to South’s chances of a result will be the midfield presence of Michael Panopoulos, Panopoulos has shown glimpses of his European class but will now be offered the stage to truly showcase his ability. The past month has also coincided with South’s share of goals drying up. With 1 goal in their last 5 games, extra responsibility will rest on South’s attacking players. Players such as Vaughn Coveny, Michael Curcija, Scott Tunbridge and Con Boutsianis must step up and make significant contributions to South’s attack. Defensively, South’s backline performed solidly throughout the regular season campaign with Adelaide City recruit Ante Kovacevic a consistent standout throughout. Kovacevic will have to be at his commanding best in order to withstand the expected Marconi onslaught.