The A-League's two best teams will face off in Sunday's decider. Will the fairytale be completed for Western Sydney, or will Central Coast finally break through?
|By GOAL AUSTRALIA
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS
Polenz, Topor-Stanley, Beauchamp, Cole
Appiah-Kubi, Ono, Poljak, Mooy
CENTRAL COAST MARINERS
Bojic, Sainsbury, Zwaanswijk, Rose
Bozanic, Hutchinson, McGlinchey,
Ibini, McBreen, Sterjovski
The A-League's top dog will finally be decided when Western Sydney Wanderers and the Central Coast Mariners face off in what promises to be a blockbuster grand final encounter at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.
Both teams arrive into the A-League's showpiece event on the back of remarkably contrasting circumstances, with Western Sydney winning the Premiers' Plate title in their maiden campaign and the Mariners are hoping to finally lay their hands on the biggest prize on offer after three heartbreaking failures.
Following their fantastic 13-match unbeaten run, which contained an extraordinary 10-game winning streak, Western Sydney dispatched Brisbane Roar 2-0 in the semi-finals last Friday to progress to the grand final.
However, while Tony Popovic's team bask in the glory of their unprecedented achievements thus far this season, they enter Sunday's clash a key man down due to the suspension of Dutch winger Youssouf Hersi.
Livewire midfielder Hersi has been nothing less than an incredible lucky charm for Western Sydney, with the club not having won a game that did not feature their talisman.
Whether Western Sydney can break that unwanted hoodoo remains to be seen on Sunday.
Midfield dynamo Aaron Mooy continues to be a major doubt for their Mariners' assignment as he battles a knee injury.
Should Mooy suffer the ignominy of watching the match from the stands, the untested Yianni Perkatis, who has featured in just two matches this season, is poised to earn another start in the heart of midfield.
Kwabena Appiah-Kubi is likely to deputise for Hersi on the right flank, while right-back Jerome Polenz [quad] is also struggling to be fit. Fellow full-back Adam D'Apuzzo has been ruled out.
While Western Sydney get to grips with their mammoth grand final appearance on Sunday, the Mariners are by no means the new kids on the block when it comes to featuring on Australian domestic football's biggest stage.
Graham Arnold's side will participate in their fourth grand final match in just eight campaigns. Nevertheless, they will be yearning to finally quench their thirst for the crown, having thrice been defeated - in 2006, 2008 and 2011.
But they will have to navigate their way through Sunday without midfield anchorman Nick Montgomery, after the former Sheffield United player was sent off during their semi-final match against Melbourne Victory last Sunday.
Oliver Bozanic is the ideal candidate to run the midfield alongside captain John Hutchinson in the centre of the park, while Adriano Pellegrino, Anthony Caceres, Brent Griffiths and Brad McDonald are all called up to the Mariners' extended squad.
Popovic, a former defender with Crystal Palace, will be running the rule over his Wanderers' defensive organisation and solidity as his team prepare to face the Mariners' deadly duo of Daniel McBreen and Michael McGlinchey.
McBreen has netted 18 goals so far this season, and the 36-year-old veteran grabbed a double when the Mariners gunned down Western Sydney in Week 15.
New Zealand international McGlinchey has been the Mariners' key attacking fulcrum and his dynamism and creativity will stretch the defensive partnership of Michael Beauchamp and Nikolai Topor-Stanley to the limit.
Western Sydney will be looking to unleash their own attacking outlets, with Shinji Ono - fresh from his magnificent strike against Roar last Friday - looking to cap off a memorable A-League debut season by leading his team to victory.
The Mariners will also have to find a way to shackle Western Sydney forward Mark Bridge, who has found the back of the net in grand final appearances with the Newcastle Jets and Sydney FC.
Both outfits have met thrice in the league, with each side having won a game apiece and drawing 0-0 in their first match of the season.