The A-League grand final's great debate

Goal Australia experts Sham Majid and Ryan McGee go toe-to-toe to dissect the A-League grand final, debating where the decider will be won and lost Indonesia   By SHAM MAJID and RYAN McGEE


SHAM MAJID: Having mustered just a solitary point from their first three matches of their inaugural A-League campaign, Western Sydney Wanderers looked set to struggle through a long and hard season. However, following a 2-0 victory against the Wellington Phoenix in Week 16, coach Tony Popovic cajoled his team to a stunning 10-match winning run, scoring 20 goals and conceding just seven. They reached the final after Dino Kresinger and Shinji Ono sealed a brilliant 2-0 win for Western Sydney against Brisbane Roar last Friday. With their last defeat coming in Week 15 against the Mariners, Western Sydney have instilled a winning mentality in their system - something their opponents will find difficult to crack.

RYAN McGEE: Central Coast's form in domestic competition has been impressive of late, which is why they will do enough against Western Sydney Wanderers to end their Championship drought. Despite suffering setbacks against both Sydney sides in March, they have responded like champions, with four straight A-League victories to secure their place in the grand final.  A dominant performance against Melbourne Victory in semi-final will ensure a confident mood in the Mariners camp and the drive to secure their first Championship after three failed grand final appearances. With so much experience lined up for the occasion, they should be too much for Western Sydney, who will learn a hard lesson on the big stage.



MAJID: Goalkeeper Ante Covic has been an ever-present figure between the posts for Western Sydney so far this season, playing in all 28 league fixtures.  The 37-year-old veteran will be looking to keep a clean sheet in his side’s most important match ever. Further afield, Japanese maestro Shinji Ono will be looking to pull the strings in midfield just as he did magnificently against the Roar last Friday. Blessed with gifted technical skills and flair, the former Feyenoord playmaker will be tasked with the role of unlocking the Central Mariners Coast's backline. With midfield enforcer Nick Montgomery forced to sit out of the grand final through suspension, Ono and company are likely to be afforded just a little more freedom and that will prove to be the Mariners' undoing.

McGEE: Daniel McBreen will be looking to add more to his blistering goal tally after securing the Golden Boot for the 2012-13 season - having scored 18 goals this season - and will prove too difficult for the Wanderers to stop. The 36-year-old's brace secured Central Coast's last win against Western Sydney in January with a 2-0 victory.  Michael McGlinchey has also been one of the most consistent performers in the A-League this season.  Another commanding performance in the midfield beckons, given his superb link-up play with McBreen, inspires plenty of confidence. The New Zealand international has scored six goals while providing seven assists for his team-mates so far this term, and his presence will be felt on the middle of the park.



MAJID: Tony Popovic's defensive DNA forged as a centre-back during his playing career seems to have rubbed off on his side, with Western Sydney boasting the meanest defensive record in the league, having conceded just 21 goals in 28 league matches. However, it would be unfair to label Western Sydney as a defensive-minded outfit, having notched 41 goals throughout the season. Rather, Popovic has moulded a side who are defensively sound at the back while players such as Ono, Aaron Mooy, Kresinger and Mark Bridge provide the necessary creative impetus in the offensive third. With Western Sydney managing to strike a delicate balance between defence and attack, their ruthlessness on both ends of the pitch will be important if the Mariners are not at their best.

McGEE: Graham Arnold's decision to rest seven players in the AFC Champions League to focus on the A-League finals run-in has paid off.  His wisdom certainly showed after the Mariners' comfortable win against Melbourne Victory. While they missed the Premiers' Plate, he has had a consistent and assured team this campaign, with his men finishing the regular season with a higher goal-difference than any other side.  As has been the case so often this season, Arnold's experience with making the right tactical decisions will give Central Coast the advantage over their opponents. He will have ensured that the Mariners go into Sunday's game knowing that they face an arm wrestle to win the battle for possession, but that - even without the suspended Nick Montgomery - they are capable of coming out on top.



MAJID: While Western Sydney steamrolled past their opponents to claim their maiden Premiers' Plate title, they have been unable to gain the upper-hand over their grand final counterparts. Western Sydney kicked off their first-ever A-League season with a tight 0-0 draw against the Mariners at the Parramatta Stadium in October. Their second clash on January 6 ended in a disappointing 2-0 home loss as Mariners forward Daniel McBreen grabbed a brace. Western Sydney finally earned their first-ever win against the Mariners at Bluetongue Stadium on March 2 when super-sub Labinot Haliti struck in the 81st minute to condemn the home side to defeat. The Wanderers would be hoping to settle the scores come the grand final on Sunday. Having embarked on a 13-match unbeaten run, Western Sydney are well poised to make it 14 after the Sunday's showpiece encounter.

McGEE: The head-to-head record between the two teams this season stands at one win apiece and one draw, so it could not be closer. But the Mariners have shown that they are more than capable of defeating this Western Sydney side, having won 2-0 at Parramatta Stadium in January and perhaps having been lucky to fall 1-0 in their last meeting. It may also be worth noting that the Mariners were in fact the last side to have defeated Western Sydney.  Little can be taken away from the Wanderers - they have had a magnificent first season in Australia's top flight. But how much more heartache can Central Coast take? This must be the season where they deliver, as they will not want to be once again so close to success, yet so far in defeat. Their hunger to finally perform will see them through, and secure an A-League title which has been a long time coming.


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