Updated: 52 min 42 sec ago
The Melbourne Victory boss was in a jubilant mood after watching his team register a 2-0 win over AFC Champions League holders Guangzhou Evergrande. The result sent shock waves through the competition and has placed the Chinese Super League club's progression to the knockout stages in doubt.
And while Victory, level on seven points with the three other teams in Group G, now have every chance of advancing themselves, Muscat's attention has already turned to Friday's A-League elimination final against the Sydney FC of Alessandro Del Piero.
Evergrande coach Marcello Lippi led Del Piero and Italy to glory at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but he lost out to rookie Muscat at Etihad Stadium.
Later this week it will be another former Juventus man and his Sky Blues team-mates in Victory's firing line.
"It's a game of football," Muscat said when asked about how it felt to get the better of the ex-Azzurri boss.
"If I'm honest I'm already thinking about Friday."
Having seen his squad stretched thin by three successive away matches against Yokohama F Marinos, the Newcastle Jets and Wellington Phoenix, Muscat claimed the buzz around the club has had a transformative effect on the condition of his players.
"All of a sudden there's no-one telling me they're fatigued or sore or tired or jetlagged," he said.
"Everyone wants to play."
One man who may not be involved against Frank Farina's team is centre-back Adrian Leijer, who limped off in the first half with a foot problem.
When asked he feared the defender, spotted later on crutches, had suffered a break, the Victory coach said: "I'm hoping not."
"But when Ado gets injured, he gets injured properly," Muscat added with a rueful smile, referring to series of facial fractures the former captain suffered earlier this season, initially dismissed by his coach as a minor knock.
Whether or not Leijer recovers in time to face Sydney, Victory will at least get Archie Thompson back after the veteran missed the Evergrande match due to a bereavement.
He is set to rejoin a squad full of positive energy. James Troisi's injury time goal to put the result beyond doubt sparked wild celebrations among the players and staff on Tuesday, and Muscat understands the psychological value of such a euphoric moment.
"It will help, there's no doubt," he said.
"I couldn't be happier with the position we're in. We've got three full days to prepare for Sydney. If you walk through that changing room you'll see a group of players jumping out of their skin to be in that team for Friday night.
"It's a very important game for the club and I dare say we're looking for a repeat performance."
Notching two victories against two World Cup winners in the space of four days? Now that would really be something for the first-season coach to mark down on his growing CV.
Here it is - our new UPDATED FourFourTwo iPad app, now better than ever...with TONS of FREE STUFF!!
Get it now for everything in the Australian print mag PLUS all the international content we couldn't squeeze into the Oz edition.
That's PAGES and PAGES of extra reading...for less than the price of even the Australian print edition, never mind an air freighted UK issue.
Plus you get last month's Australian FourFourTwo ABSOLUTELY FREE with bonus videos and pics.
PLUS a whole year of back issues. Free, gratis, all yours, take it, it's YOURS!
Check it out now right here, right now!
Bosnar’s Mariners take on FC Seoul tonight and sit on top of Group F. A result against the Korean side would put the Mariners in the box seat to go through to the next phase.
The experienced centre back, who spent six years playing in Japan, Korea and China, said A-League clubs are a bit hard on themselves when it comes to the Asian Champions League.
“The problem is people say you can’t compete against money,” Bosnar said.
“But you don’t compete against money, you compete against players. I don’t think that the players at the Mariners or the players at the Victory or the players at the Wanderers are any worse, or the quality of the other players are that much better. I don’t think so.
“There’s (Guilherme), Finkler for example, there’s not a better player than him in the J-League. A foreign Brazilian player maybe on par.
“You look at Kim (Seung-yong) that we’ve got on our team. I don’t think that there’s a Korean player anywhere who’s playing anywhere else that’s better than him.
“When you work all those things out, I think we’re a little bit harsh on ourselves. I think we should give more credit to ourselves and to the league, and to our ability because I don’t believe that we’re a lot worse than they are.
“Okay we have to travel maybe a little bit longer than what the other teams do but that shouldn’t be an excuse.”
Melbourne Victory beat Guangzhou Evergrande 2-0 on Tuesday night are in third place in Group G, with all four teams equal on seven points. A positive result in their final match against Jeonbuk would see them go through.
In Group H Western Sydney are in pole position to qualify for the next stage after beating Ulsan Hyundai 2-0. The Wanderers currently top the group with nine points.
Bosnar, who played more than 150 games for JEF United Chiba, Shimizu S-Pulse, Suwon Bluewings and Guangzhou RF, believes that A-League teams are performing better in Asia with more experience, and must not be overwhelmed with the Asian challenge.
“We’re starting to learn how to play against these teams and we’re starting to think that, look, we have to be confident against them,” the 33-year old said.
“We don’t have anything to lose. They’ve got to play against 11 men, we’ve got to play against 11 men. It’s not like you’re going to play against Barcelona. They’re Asian teams, they’re not as good as we think they are.
“We have to take a totally different approach. We have to be a lot more confident by the time the game starts. Don’t give them too much time on the ball and don’t give them too much respect. You respect them, you respect every team you play against, but I think we give them too much respect and we keep from playing.
“Yeah they’ve got all the money, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to buy the Champions League. They’ve got to still beat you. I’m a little bit disappointed in that because the Australian spirit is not ‘Oh, someone’s better than us or has got more money in us’. We’re always fighters.
Bosnar has only been playing in the A-League since February, but doesn’t feel there is a big difference technically between the A-League and the domestic comps in Japan and Korea.
“Yes a lot of those leagues have a lot more teams,” he added.
“Here, when you play against a team so many times, you work teams out. I think that happens…(but) I don’t think there’s a big difference at all between their leagues and our league, no.”
Is it simply a striker who drops off from the front to find space away from centre-backs, as mastered by Lionel Messi? Or a midfielder pushed forward into an advanced role, like Cesc Fabregas often does for Spain? Kevin Nolan has also played this role for West Ham and you would hardly compare his physical, hard running style with say, Adel Taarabt, who was used in the same position when on loan at Fulham earlier this season.
The term false nine, then, has come to represent lots of things that could probably just be plainly described as something orthodox forwards would not do or, even more generally, a false nine represents someone who is not an orthodox forward.
That seems a fitting description, then, of the four players who fulfilled this role in the A-League’s final regular season round. Harry Kewell, Alessandro Del Piero, Guilherme Finkler and James Troisi were all used as the most advanced attackers for their sides, but they rarely stayed there, dropping deep into midfield and drifting to the sides to find possession and create chances. Yet this was also a weekend where this movement was also replicated by players like Tomi Juric, Bruce Djite and Besart Berisha, three strikers in the truest sense of the word. It demonstrates the fallacy in football terminology and is a prudent reminder that at the end of the day, the term false nine is a description, not a science.
Beyond minor quibbles of definitions, however, lies a far more pertinent point. The past weekend of A-League action featured several examples of deep-lying forwards. Even a side like Newcastle started with Emile Heskey - probably the closest thing to a classic centre-forward in world football - drifting between the lines to act as a link between the Jets’ midfield and Adam Taggart’s runs in behind. The combination between the two in Round 26 against Melbourne Victory for the latter’s opening goal was an excellent demonstration of the danger a striker can pose if they drop away from defenders intelligently.
Meanwhile, Frank Farina has increasingly preferred Del Piero upfront in a 4-3-3, encouraged by the movement of the wide players in behind when the Italian moves towards the midfield, while Kewell, in his final match before retirement, spent most of a match where he was designated as a forward in deeper positions, encouraging both David Williams and Mate Dugdanzic to run into the space in behind. Their cross-city rivals, the Victory are, of course, the standard bearers for this template, with Ange Postecoglou introducing the concept and it being continued now under Kevin Muscat’s reign.
Even traditional strikers are getting in on the act. Tomi Juric might be best known as a battering ram of a forward but there was sophistication in the way he dropped short into the space between Melbourne Heart’s midfield and defence to find room for long-range strikes. Djite, too, is regarded as a target man but looked most dangerous when he dragged defenders with him into deep positions, holding up play and inviting runners to get in beyond him.
It is a fairly simple piece of movement but it was intriguing how commonplace it was in all five games. Context, too, must be considered. Five years ago the primary function of strikers in this league was to latch onto the end of crosses and battle for high balls, but a deep-lying forward has now become mainstream enough that it was barely remarked upon as each game unfolded.
Why, then, is it so popular? It is, essentially, the principle of overloading - breaking an opposition’s defensive shape by taking players away from one zone of the pitch and moving them into another. If a centre-forward moves deep, he leaves the centre-backs with no one to mark. If the defender follows, as Patrick Kisnorbo, Ben Sigmund and Kew Jaliens, to list a few examples, like to do, he risks leaving space that others can move into. If he doesn’t, the deep-lying centre-forward has freedom, time and space to attack, whether that be with a shot, pass or dribble.
If you pull the midfielders back to protect the defence, as the Central Coast Mariners do with Nick Montgomery and John Hutchinson, you can risk sitting too deep, or conceding the time and space to opposition midfielders who now have no direct opponent. Furthermore it is essentially a sacrifice of some of your attacking penetration in asking midfielders to play such disciplined roles, and it is telling that neither Montgomery or Hutchinson have recorded a goal or assist this season.
As it were, though, against the masters of getting players between the lines, Brisbane Roar, Phil Moss took a decidedly different approach in switching to a 5-4-1, giving his centre-backs an extra man at the back to allow them to step up onto deep-lying attackers, safe in the knowledge there was cover in behind. That Brisbane were able to force one of the most tactically consistent sides in the competition into such a drastically different formation demonstrates their deep-lying dangers.
The obvious conclusion, therefore, is that a deep-lying forwards can be difficult to deal with no matter what way you defend it. That, then, brings us back to answering why it was so fashionable last weekend. One might expect it to be even more decisive in the upcoming finals series.
Both goals came in the second half with Mark Bridge scoring the opener with a fine header before setting up another for Brendon Santalab for the sealer 10 minutes from time.
The victory puts the Wanderers on the verge of qualification ahead of the final group game at home to Guizhou Renhe.
Without regular goalkeeper Ante Covic, Jarrad Tyson pulled on the gloves and was quickly off his line to deny Shin-Wook Kim 11 minutes into the contest.
Chances were few and far between in the opening half with Tyson showing safe hands with back-to-back saves from Sang-Woon Han.
With the Wanderers producing little going forward, they had Tyson to thank at half-time after the goalkeeper produced a smart save to deny Brazilian Rafinha from close range.
Two minutes after the interval, Bridge almost capitalised on a poor back pass to give the visitors the lead before finding the back of the net in the 61st minute.
The veteran played the ball out to the left to Shannon Cole, who curled in a pinpoint cross for Bridge to expertly head home from just next to the penalty spot.
The Wanderers were content to hold onto their lead, but Ulsan failed to test the resolute back four with Michael Beauchamp and Nikolai Topor-Stanley very impressive.
The points were sealed in the 80th minute when substitute Brendon Santalab turned in Bridge's cross from close range.
Ulsan Hyundai 0
Western Sydney Wanderers 2 (Bridge 61, Santalab 80)
The goalkeeper, dropped for his inconsistent performances earlier this season, produced a succession of top-quality saves to deny the competition's holders.
Kevin Muscat's team had been guilty of failing to put the game away by missing some good opportunities after Mark Milligan's second-minute opener.
But James Troisi secured the points with an injury-time goal, and the unexpected three points draws the A-League side level with the Chinese Super League champions on seven points in Group G going into Victory's final game away to Jeonbuk Motors next week.
Right from kick-off at Etihad Stadium there was barely a moment in which to draw breath, the hosts taking the lead in the second minute through skipper Milligan, who poked the ball beyond goalkeeper Zeng Cheng after being played in deftly by Kosta Barbarouses.
Five minutes later Victory failed to capitalise on a good opening from a corner and were immediately caught on the counterattack, Jason Geria called on to intercept Muriqui's dangerous pass across the face of goal after the Brazilian forward had raced beyond his man and into the penalty area.
Barbarouses should have made it 2-0 in the 13th minute, taking advantage of some haphazard Evergrande defending to find himself one-on-one with the keeper. He had too much time to consider his options, and made a mess of a glorious opportunity by shooting straight at a grateful Zeng.
Victory were forced into a change just before the half-hour mark, centre-back Adrian Leijer limping off to be replaced by Leigh Broxham.
Either side of that substitution Evergrande threatened twice, Geria called on to deny Elkeson with an inch-perfect sliding tackle inside the box.
Elkeson then split the Victory defence to play his compatriot through one-on-one, Muriqui - like Barbarouses - failing to seize the chance as Coe saved well with his feet.
The away team's best spell of the game continued as, on 33 minutes, left-back Sun Xiang launched a dipping half-volley from range which Pablo Contreras cleared with his head just in front of the goal-line.
Eight minutes into the second half it was Makarounas' turn to fluff his lines, scuffing a weak shot straight at Zeng after Connor Pain's cross had found him unmarked at the back post.
Evergrande had to wait until the 61st minute to genuinely worry the Victory goal in the second term, last-ditch expert Contreras heading off the line from Elkeson's free-kick.
Nine minutes later Elkeson went close again, the Brazilian sending a downward header into first the turf and then the arms of Coe when unmarked just metres out for goal.
By now the pressure was really mounting, prompting a steady stream of chances for the visitors in a five-minute barrage.
In the 72nd minute Muriqui had a shot from inside the area well saved by Coe, before cutting inside and driving at the Victory backline two minutes later, only halted by an excellent Geria block.
It was then the turn of substitute Feng Renliang to have a go, getting past Dylan Murnane and drawing a brilliant save from Coe down low to the goalkeeper's right.
The siege resumed moments later, as Evergrande broke from a corner to find themselves outnumbering the Victory defence three to two. Elkeson played in Muriqui, who was somehow denied yet again by the inspired Coe.
The hosts weathered that spell of sustained pressure and Evergrande's chances fizzled out, before a brilliant counterattack involving Milligan, Barbarouses and substitute Andrew Nabbout set up Troisi to tuck home the decisive second, sparking wild celebrations among the Victory players and staff.
Melbourne Victory (Milligan 2', Troisi 91')
Guangzhou Evergrande 0
13,120 @ Etihad Stadium
The much sought-after 17-year-old spent eight days in the Italian capital to work through a potential deal with the Serie A giants.
While nothing has been finalised yet, it appears a formality De Silva will sign with Roma in a lucrative deal that will see him become team-mates with the likes of Italian internationals Francesco Totti and Danielle De Rossi.
The teenager will remain with Glory next season until he turns 18.
"I went over to discuss a few things with them - it worked out well," De Silva told footballaustralia.com.au.
"It's such a prestigious and big club and it was great to see the players and how they train and play, the facilities and the set up and coaches. It was a really enjoyable trip.
"I got to see the Colosseum and a bit of Rome while I was over there as well which was nice.
"Rome is the most beautiful city I've ever seen. It's very ancient, there's a lot of history and culture there which was great to see.”
De Silva watched a few training sessions, caught the 2-1 defeat of Torino and saw one of his heroes in action, Italian superstar Francesco Totti.
"He's such a great player, it's a shame he knocked the Socceroos out of the (2006) World Cup," De Silva said.
"He's a great player and had a really great career in the game. It will be a shame when he retires.
"Just to be able to be there and train with those players would be something special and great for my development."
De Silva is keeping firmly grounded as he prepares with the Young Socceroos ahead of October's AFC U-19 Championships in Myanmar where the top four teams will qualify for next year's U-20 World Cup.
"My parents raised me pretty well and I know it's very important to stay humble and not get a big head about it because then people view you in a different way," he said.
"Whenever I come to these camps I don't put myself above anyone and I don't expect anyone to do that for me as well.
"I'm just a regular kid trying to make it into the team. I really respect that. They treat me the same as any other player and it's the same for them as well."
The Young Socceroos will face off against NPL club Sydney United on Wednesday.
"Things are going well," De Silva added.
"We've got some great players here but obviously it takes time for players to get familiar with each other and we need to keep working.
"But from the first training session it's been going well. We're starting to get the idea of what the coach wants us to do so in a few more weeks and months we'll be really solid.
"I was really looking forward to come to this camp because I like the way we play, its good football and a good bunch of lads."
As part of the Fox Sports coverage, viewers will be able to listen to the whistle blowers outlining their decisions to the players.
Brisbane Roar, Western Sydney Wanderers, Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne Victory, Sydney FC and Adelaide United will battle it out in the 2014 sudden death finals series.
Fans get their first taste of ref audio on Friday night with the Big Blue between rivals Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC at the scene of the 2010 Grand Final – Etihad Stadium.
Football Federation Australia CEO David Gallop hailed the audio trial as a breakthrough for the A-League, taking fans into the thick of the action.
“We believe the extra microphone is a significant step forward and gives fans a greater insight into what’s happening on the pitch,” Gallop said.
“Sports fans around the world are privileged to be able to hear the thoughts of the referees and we’re pleased Hyundai A-League fans will be able to experience this as we move into a thrilling finals series.”
The microphones will not be broadcast live but used as part of the coverage.
Fox Sports CEO, Patrick Delany, said: “This is a massive development for football in Australia and we applaud the FFA for working with us to bring this innovation to life.
“Fans of other codes are now accustomed to hearing the reasoning for key decisions made during matches directly from the referee.
“Now football fans can experience that same level of insight throughout the Hyundai A-League finals series.”
All five A-League finals matches will be broadcast live on Fox Sports and on a one-hour delay on SBS 2.
Rogic, 21, joined Victory from Celtic on loan in January to much fanfare, but has started only seven matches in almost four months.
In his last outing he was forced off with a recurrence of a groin problem in the first half of his team's 2-2 draw away to Newcastle Jets on April 5.
Addressing the media on Monday, the Victory coach indicated that centre-back Pablo Contreras is close to a return to action, with the outlook less positive for Rogic.
"He has trained," Muscat said.
"Not at the same level as Pablo at the moment. He's a little bit behind Pablo, it's going to take him a little bit longer."
When asked if he deemed the decision to pursue Rogic to be a success, Muscat said: "Let's wait till we get to the back end of it.
"Coming here, the period that he did get here, it's been difficult for him. We knew there was a number of factors that were going to contribute to that and how much football he'd play.
"But it's certainly been really good to have him Tom here. And in hindsight I certainly wouldn't have changed (my mind). I'd have still got him here, he's been really good for us."
With playmaker Guilherme Finkler ineligible, Rogic's continuing absence is a blow to Victory's hopes of earning a positive result against Evergrande at Etihad Stadium on Tuesday night.
Skipper Mark Milligan is well acquainted with the best Asian football has to offer after spells with Shanghai Shenhua and JEF United Chiba.
The Socceroo midfielder believes this Evergrande outfit, who came from 2-0 down at half-time to blow Victory away en route to a 4-2 win on matchday one, are one of the best opponents he has encountered at club level.
"It was the first game that I'd played against a Chinese side since I'd been there," he said.
"Not only (do) they have extremely talented players there, but the discipline of that team that they showed, especially that night against us in the second half, was something I hadn't experienced before against a Chinese side playing over there.
"I think that's probably the biggest difference. Obviously they're very talented but the amount of discipline and structure they showed to come back into that match was something I hadn't seen in a club side in China."
Milligan's glowing review of Evergrande demonstrates the scale of task facing Victory, who realistically need to win if they are to progress to the knockout stages, but must also take into consideration their A-League elimination final against arch-rivals Sydney FC on Friday night.
GK: Ben Kennedy (Newcastle Jets)
After being patient all season he was rewarded with a clean sheet in Newcastle’s final game of the season. The hard work has paid off and he is deserving of his selection this week.
DLC: Joshua Rose (Central Coast Mariners)
Has been a rock all season for his side. Was desperate with his defensive duties and pulled everything off very well on Saturday night.
DC: Nikolai Topor-Stanley (Western Sydney Wanderers)
His opening goal header proved pivotal for the Wanderers as they finished in second position. Again has been solid this season for his side.
DRC: Storm Roux (Central Coast Mariners)
Deserves credit for being sound all season. To go to Suncorp and come away with a clean sheet will give him huge confidence going into the finals series.
MC: Terry Antonis (Sydney FC)
A big future lies ahead for Terry. Was about everywhere in midfield and scored a pile-driver into the corner to notch up a 2-1 win over Perth Glory. Will give his side a lot of confidence heading into their sudden death finals campaign.
MC: Anthony Caceres (Central Coast)
What a top performance from the 21-year-old. It’s never easy to get the points at Suncorp and he was a hard midfield worker in a difficult match. Proving he’s not a one hit wonder his long range effort was a replica of the goal he scored over Newcastle.
MC: Orlando Engelaar (Melbourne Heart)
It’s been a pleasure to watch Engelaar this season. Unfortunate he had to sit out nearly the first half of the season with injury because his sublime goals have caught worldwide media attention, particularly that effort from the half-way. He scored another cracking goal from outside the box on the weekend and was a strong presence in midfield. Would be great to see him in the City jersey next season.
AML:David Carney (Newcastle Jets)
Has been one of the finds of the mid-season window. Played superbly and again proved a worthy team of the week selection. His passing and movement on the left hand side was a major strength for the Jets. Unfortunately they finished short of a finals berth. Would have to secure the services for Carney for next season to be competitive.
AMR: Kosta Barbarouses (Melbourne Victory)
Didn’t get onto the scoresheet but was a strong presence for his side in a dominant 4-1 win over Wellington. His passing was crisp and he had a hand in goals as his side ran riot across the Tasman.
SC: Gui Finkler (Melbourne Victory)
Was involved in one of the great team goals of the season when he coolly slotted past Jacob Spoonley and low into the corner. Is a class player and had a great day out against the Nix
SC: James Troisi (Melbourne Victory)
Overall has had a great season for Victory. Set up the opening goal in the early stages of the match with a well-time pass to Archie Thompson then rocketed one into the roof of the net to make it 2-1. Played a solid match and is definitely going to be a threat for Friday night’s first sudden death against Sydney.
The Reds' 2-0 defeat to Newcastle on Friday nights – coupled with wins for Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC - means they finished the regular season in sixth spot.
Josep Gombau's side now have to take on Central Coast Mariners at Bluetongue Stadium next Saturday afternoon and, if successful, must then travel away and beat Brisbane the following week to make the decider.
It would seem a tough ask if Adelaide are to make it all the way through to the grand final but they remain upbeat about their chances of causing a few shocks.
"It's a very close knit group we've got here," skipper Eugene Galekovic said.
"You see the passion of the coach (Gombau) and he brings a lot to (the team morale) as well.
"He wants us to be a strong unit and you can see that the way we play and how we celebrate together.
"We're confident we can do something in the finals. We just have to forget about (the Newcastle loss), work hard all week on the training track and be ready to do better next week."
Despite the loss to the Jets, Gombau was still happy with his side's performance on Friday night and will urge them to put the result behind them immediately and reset their focus towards Central Coast.
The Spaniard said his side's tough run-in over the last month has them battle-hardened heading into the play-offs.
"Every game is different. The players know the finals better than me because they have played in the club for a long time," he said.
"The finals is just one game and anything can happen so everyone will be extremely motivated to play this game. The last six or seven games for our team has been like finals.
"We weren't in the top six, and we needed to be and we start to play like finals."
A season that promised much proved to be a bumpy ride with Lowe taking the reins from Alistair Edwards mid-season in a tumultuous period of upheaval for the Glory.
The final match also ended in unhappy fashion with the Glory conceding an eleventh-hour goal to fall to a 2-1 defeat at Sydney FC on Sunday despite dominating large periods of the second half.
Lowe said there have been major benefits from the season such as significant game time to the Glory’s large youth contingent, including Jack Duncan, Matthew Davies, Jack Clisby and Daniel De Silvia against Sydney.
“If you said to the younger players, those around 17-18 years old, you would play around 15 games this season they would have laughed,” said Lowe. “But all of a sudden we have got kids in the group now who have that [experience].
“You have to give them experience, but sometimes it means you are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.”
Lowe says the base has been laid for future success. The Glory, however, are yet to confirm their coach for next season, with former Australia and Mariners mentor Graham Arnold linked to the role last week following his exit from Vegalta Sendai.
Lowe said: “There is a nucleus there [within the squad], and there are a few guys who want to leave but that is for the next coach to decide.
“If someone thinks I’m good enough to do the job, I’m more than glad to take it. I think I have proved that, but that is just personal opinion.
“The guys at the club have been open and honest, and very very supportive. But they have a big decision to make because they want the best for the club.”
Lowe was less than optimistic about Sydney FC’s chances in play-offs, with the Sky Blues tackling Melbourne Victory next Friday.
“They do have some quality players, it’s a question of whether they’re able to show that quality. We didn’t see much of [Alessandro] Del Piero, but then he popped up at the crucial moment.
“I think probably it’ll be tough [for Sydney]. Really they’re not one of the top sides at the moment.”
“It was a world class goal from Antonis. He loves doing that against us. I think he wants to play us every week.
“We scored with a set-play that we had worked on so that is always pleasing.
“I enjoyed the game. I thought we were good value to get something out of the game.
“Even if you are getting absolutely battered with backs to the wall, at 93 minutes at 1-1 you should get something out of the game. It probably sums up the season to be truthful.”
Played: 1, Wins: Victory 0, Guangzhou 1, Draws: 0
Guangzhou 4-2 Victory, 26 February 2014
Past five matches (in all competitions):
Victory go into this game third in Group G, level on four points with bottom side Yokohama F Marinos and three points back from Evergrande and Jeonbuk Motors, who are first and second respectively. A draw or a loss for the A-League side coupled with a Jeonbuk defeat in Japan would still leave Kevin Mucat's team with a slim chance of progressing, but only if results then went heavily in their favour on the final matchday - namely a comfortable Victory win away to Jeonbuk and a heavy Evergrande triumph over Yokohama.
To have more control over their destiny Victory must aim for maximum points, no small task against the competition's holders, who are also the reigning Chinese Super League champions. Muscat's men impressed greatly in beating Wellington Phoenix 4-1 away from home on Sunday, but that was against exhausted, injury-hit opponents with nothing to play for. Evergrande by comparison, since losing 1-0 away to Jeonbuk on matchday four, have won two CSL matches in succession, 4-2 at home to Dalian Aerbin and 5-2 away to Tianjin Teda.
The big issue:
Victory – Having returned from New Zealand only days ago and with a crucial elimination final against Sydney FC coming up on Friday, Muscat is going to have to rotate his squad for the Evergrande game. Jimmy Jeggo, Jesse Makarounas and Connor Pain all came off the bench in Wellington and could start on Tuesday night, while Pablo Contreras and Tom Rogic may return from injuries.
Guangzhou – The visitors will want avoid a repeat of the sluggish start they made in the first meeting between these teams two months ago. A rampant Victory came out firing and led 2-0 at Tianhe Stadium, before the introduction of Liao Lisheng for Muriqui at the break changed the game and saw Marcello Lippi's team run out convincing 4-2 winners. There is no doubt Evergrande, Asian football's preeminent financial powerhouse, are the stronger team on paper, but they need to be switched on from kick-off this time around.
The game breaker:
We'll find out at Monday afternoon's press conferences if Italian star Alessandro Diamanti has travelled with Evergrande for the game in Melbourne. If the former Bologna man is present, he will be the number one threat to Victory's hopes of taking anything from the game. Lured east at considerable cost, the ex-West Ham United forward bagged a brace in the 4-2 comeback during the teams' first meeting. Brazilian Elkeson is another man Victory need to try and keep quiet.
Prediction: Victory 1-3 Guangzhou
As much as they'd like to do both, Victory don't have the depth to put out a full strength team in both domestic and regional competition. The showdown with Sydney later this week will take priority over their Asian adventure, and the second-tier players Muscat will be forced to use on Tuesday are unlikely to be a match for their big-spending opponents. The hosts are sure to battle gamely, but we expect the Chinese side to go home with the spoils.
Played: 1, Wins: Mariners 0, Seoul 1, Draws: 0
Seoul 2-0 Mariners, February 25 2014
Past five matches:
Central Coast can take a huge step towards the last 16 of the AFC Champions League with a win over Seoul on Wednesday night. The Mariners are top of Group F through four matches – a point clear of the remaining three teams. With Sanfrecce Hiroshima travelling to Beijing Guoan, the Mariners could be in the last 16 if they win and the match in China is anything but a draw. Phil Moss' men have a busy run of fixtures as they juggle continental commitments and A-League finals, but they did upset premiers Brisbane Roar 2-0 last time out. Seoul – last year's Champions League runners-up – are struggling in second bottom in the K-League and are on a five-match winless run ahead of their trip to Australia.
The big issue:
Mariners – just what does Moss do with his squad for the first of three matches in eight days? With an elimination final at home to Adelaide United on Saturday, his selections will be key to have his team performing at close to their best in both matches. He has juggled his squad well so far so expect the likes of Kim Seung-Yong and Matt Simon – who both played no part in the win over the Roar – to feature. A trip to Japan awaits on April 23 before a potential A-League semi-final just days later.
Seoul – can Choi Yong-Soo's men regain some confidence after a poor start to the season? They appear a long way from the team that finished fourth in the league last campaign and went close to winning the Champions League, with just win victory in their opening eight league matches. They are struggling to score goals and conceding plenty, and a visit to the Central Coast is a massive ask to lead to a turnaround.
The game breaker:
Kim Seung-Yong – the South Korean attacker missed the trip to Brisbane after hurting his hamstring against Perth Glory the week prior. With a meeting against one of his former clubs awaiting, Kim is likely to play a part after the injury was described as minor. The 29-year-old has the quality to cause problems in the attacking third and the Mariners will need him to have a big influence if they are to claim yet another win.
Prediction: Mariners 1-0 Seoul
In an even group, a win would be a huge boost to either team, but one comes in having tasted victory regularly over the past month as the other has struggled. The Mariners have won six of their past eight, while Seoul have just one victory since the start of March. Choi's side have quality and South Korea international Yun Il-Lok could help them to a much-needed win. Moss hailed his side's tactical flexibility after their win over Brisbane and, with a victory potentially sending them through, Central Coast may edge Seoul regardless of the personnel they use.
Played: 1, Wins: Ulsan 1, Wanderers 0 Draws: 0
Wanderers 1-3 Ulsan, 26 February 2014
Past five matches (in all competitions):
Western Sydney Wanderers will have to beware the wounded animal in Group H when they travel to take on Ulsan on Tuesday. The K-League club lead Group H but have won just once in their past six matches in all competitions. Cho Min-Kook's Ulsan side will wrap up a spot in the AFC Champions League's (ACL) Round of 16 with a win against Western Sydney and will be desperate to turn their form around.
Ulsan started the season with six games unbeaten, including their opening three ACL matches, but have plummeted down the K-League table to fifth since, losing their past two fixtures 1-0 to Seongnam and Jeonbuk Motors respectively. Cho's men lost at Guizhou Renhe in the last ACL matchday to top Group H with seven points, while the Wanderers failed away to Kawasaki Frontale to be joined by the Japanese club on six - although Western Sydney sit second on goals scored.
Since that defeat, however, Western Sydney have claimed a draw against recently-crowned A-League premiers Brisbane Roar and came from behind to trump Melbourne Heart 3-2 on Saturday. Wanderers head coach Tony Popovic will be hoping for at least a draw in South Korea to set his team up for the final matchday where they will host bottom club Guizhou.
The big issue:
Ulsan – The K-League runners-up from 2013 have scored 16 goals in all competitions so far this season but have not hit the back of the net since April 1. Can Ulsan test Wanderers' defence enough to win on Tuesday? Towering striker Kim Shin-Wook has scored seven of those goals but Cho needs his other attackers to start producing more often in the final third. Brazilian forward Rafinha scored 12 goals in all competitions last year but has just two this campaign.
Wanderers – Popovic's side won the 2012/13 A-League premiership based on a water-tight defence. This season Western Sydney have conceded a little over a goal per game on average and have not kept a clean sheet in four matches. With a draw arguably enough for the Wanderers in South Korea, a classic backs-to-the-wall performance could be ideal for the Parramatta-based club.
The game breaker: Ante Covic
If the Wanderers are to hold on defensively against Ulsan, their veteran goalkeeper will have to be on top of his game. On Saturday in Melbourne, Covic denied Heart striker Harry Kewell from point-blank range with a brilliant save as the home side dominated, keeping Western Sydney in the match before Youssouf Hersi sparked the visitors' comeback.
Prediction: Ulsan 1-1 Wanderers
Western Sydney's win against Heart clinched second spot for the Wanderers and means Popovic can fully focus on his team's final two ACL matches, knowing they do not have to play an A-League final in between. Expect the likes of Nikolai Topor-Stanley (one appearance), star striker Tomi Juric and mercurial winger Hersi (both two) to be utilised against Ulsan and Guizhou with a spot in the Round of 16 on the line.
Ulsan, however, should be confident coming up against the Wanderers, having accounted for them 3-1 at Pirtek Stadium on the opening matchday. Lead striker Kim will seriously test Western Sydney's defence with his height, while Ko Chang-Hyeon will be dangerous bursting forward from midfield. Both scored in that win in February. But Ulsan's form does indicate Popovic's men will have a chance.
Australia international Garcia struck three minutes into added time of the final regular-season game of the campaign to earn a home win that ensured Sydney finished fifth.
Frank Farinas men finished the season in fifth and will now face rivals Melbourne Victory, as opposed to reigning champions Central Coast Mariners, who they were on course to meet before Garcias late intervention.
Terry Antonis superb long-range strike gave the hosts the lead seven minutes minutes before half-time at the Allianz Stadium.
However, Rostyn Griffiths second A-League goal of the season deservedly drew the Glory level in first-half stoppage time.
A nervy second period ensued, but Garcia settled matters in the final seconds when he latched onto Alessandro Del Pieros superb, lofted throughball and beat Glory keeper Jack Duncan.
The result ended the Glorys mini-revival - which had seen them win their last two league games - and means they finish the season in eighth place.
Former Australia international Kewell was unable to captain his team to victory over Western Sydney Wanderers at AAMI Park a result that means the Heart will conclude the campaign at the foot of the A-League standings.
A close-season of change lies in wait, with a fresh name and a switch in team colours though to be likely as new owners the City Group look to bring their Melbourne outfit in line with Manchester City and Major League Soccer sister club New York City.
Asked whether he would have a part to play in this new dawn, Kewell said: I dont know. First and foremost, after a season, its been long; its been hard. You like to get away and refresh the body and mind.
And then well see. I think there are exciting times (ahead) for Melbourne Heart, Melbourne City and I wish them every success. Hopefully they can go on to bigger and better things.
Kewell admitted to mixed emotions regarding his final game after the Heart led 2-1 with 18 minutes to play, only to then be undone by strikes from Brendon Santalab and Youssouf Hersi.
I feel good actually, he said. Im disappointed that we didnt come off with the win but I was proud of the boys.
We played well, created chances. We didnt finish it. Their three goals, Ive seen better goals scored against us but youve got to move on.
After bemoaning key decisions going against his team during the 90 minutes, Melbourne Heart manager John vant Schip added: I have to give our captain a great compliment, the way he finished his career. I think he played a fantastic game. I think this is what we should talk about.
Playing the final game of his illustrious career, former Australia international Kewell was unable to inspire his side to victory at AAMI Park, meaning the Heart are guaranteed to end the regular season bottom of the table.
Western Sydney, meanwhile, can look forward to a week off and a home semi-final after late goals fromBrendan Santalab and Youssouf Hersi earned a hard-fought triumph.
Nikolai Topor-Stanley headed the Wanderers into a 27th-minute lead from Shinji Onos free-kick, but the Heart swiftly levelled through Orlando Engelaar.
Ono smashed a penalty against the crossbar in the second half and it looked as though the visitors would be punished when Jason Hoffman put the Heart ahead with 18 minutes remaining.
However, Santalab replied, after appearing to get away with a push on centre-back Robbie Wielaert, and Hersi then rounded off the scoring in the 86th minute.
Western Sydneys victory was crucial given that Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne Victory also recorded victories on Saturday.
The Mariners delivered an impressive display to win 2-0 at Premier Plate winners Brisbane Roar and claim third spot, with Nick Fitzgerald and Anthony Caceres on target in the first half.
Victory cruised to a 4-1 triumph at 10-man Wellington Phoenix, with Archie Thompsons first-minute strike setting the tone.
James Troisi and Guilherme added further goals for Kevin Muscats men prior to half-time, and Mark Milligan scored from the penalty spot in the 59th minute afterShaun Timmins had been sent off for bringing downKosta Barbarouses.
A stunning late volley from Jeremy Brockie represented little consolation for Wellington, who end the season in ninth position.
Both the Mariners and the Victory will be at home for their respective elimination finals.
Well-taken goals from Nick Fitzgerald and Anthony Caceres in the space of four first-half minutes were enough to secure the result for Phil Moss side, for whom second place was out of reach after the Western Sydney Wanderers earlier win over the Melbourne Heart.
The Premiers Plate winners finished their outstanding regular season with a tepid performance in a game in which they failed to find much penetration in the attacking third, with the defeat ending a run of six games without loss.
The visitors conceded the majority of possession to the Roar, but held a solid defensive line and were able to create chances for themselves through quick, precise attacks.
In the first half, Eddy Bosnar launched one of his thunderous free-kicks at Brisbanes goal just before the ten-minute mark, and Michael Theo did well to deflect the effort away from goal with his forearms.
A back-peddling Mariners goalkeeper Liam Reddy almost made a meal of a Matt Smith attempt from over the half-way line, but in the end he got one arm in the way to block the shot.
A fluid Central Coast counter-attack resulted in the games first goal, as Bernie Ibini played through Storm Roux, who cut back for Fitzgerald to slot the ball home.
Moments later, the Roar came close to equalising when Thomas Broich stormed into the Mariners area and played a pass back for Besart Berisha, but the Albanians low shot fizzed wide.
The Mariners then doubled their advantage thanks to Caceres blistering effort from the edge of the area, which Theo could only watch fly past him into the net.
The influential Ibini then ran from deep and out-sprinted Jade North to give himself an opportunity on goal, but the chance was smothered by the Roar keeper.
The Roar sprung to life just before the interval, with Luke Brattan and Matt McKay combining brilliantly to create a chance for Dimitri Petratos at the back post, but the forwards shot slammed against the upright.
Fitzgerald had the chance to bury the game 50 seconds into the second half, but he failed to make clean contact and blazed a shot over the bar from close range.
Another slaloming Ibini run ended with an incisive pass to Fitzgerald, who was fouled by Ivan Franjic outside the Roar box to set up a free-kick opportunity for the Mariners.
Ibini took responsibility, but his shot was aimed straight at the palms of Theo.
On the hour mark, Broich made space for himself in the area before firing an effort on goal, which Reddy fumbled and Berisha turned in, only to be flagged for offside.
Franjic set up the German moments later, but he skied a difficult attempt from a good position.
Though the Mariners were sitting back more as the game wore on, they were still able to create chances for themselves on the counter, and Fitzgerald was sent through by a Mitchell Duke backheel only to shoot into the side netting.
With ten minutes remaining, big Duke cruised down the right before testing Theo with a low shot.
Berisha then shaved the upright in the dying minutes, but it was too little, too late for the Premiers.
Brisbane Roar 0
Central Coast Mariners 2 (Ftizgerald 24, Caceres 28)
Crowd: 14, 218 @Suncorp Stadium
Goals from Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Brendan Santalab and Youssouf Hersi sealed the victory for the away team, after Heart had equalised and then taken the lead through Orlando Engelaar and Jason Hoffman respectively.
Barring an extraordinarily heavy win for the Central Coast Mariners away to Brisbane Roar later on Saturday night, Tony Popovics team will secure the runner up berth and enjoy a prized week off before entering finals fray with a home semi.
Heart meanwhile collect the wooden spoon as the competitions bottom team, having been unable to farewell retiring Socceroo great Kewell in a manner befitting his impressive career.
After both teams threatened in the opening 25 minutes, it was the Wanderers who drew first blood. Topor-Stanley, captaining the visiting team in place of Michael Beauchamp, connected with Shinji Onos dipping free-kick to send a looping header over Tando Velaphi and into the back of the net.
Undeterred, Heart levelled the scores seven minutes later. Already involved in most of his sides good play without tangible reward, marquee midfielder Engelaar took matters into his own hands by unleashing a piercing long-range strike which flew into the corner of Ante Covics goal.
Jonatan Germano threatened to become the villain of the piece for the home side when he was deemed, perhaps harshly, to have brought down Mark Bridge inside the area in the 67th minute. Ono however, usually so poised with the dead ball, blasted his spot-kick against the crossbar.
The Wanderers were made to rue their profligacy just minutes later, as the hosts took the lead for the first time in the game courtesy of Hoffmans deflected strike, the somewhat fortunate result of an ambitious driving run from the right-back.
In the 81st minute Western Sydney levelled, and there was an element of luck about the visitors goal.
Fullback Jerome Polenz, played in behind the Heart defence, crossed to the centre of the penalty area. Substitute Santalab appeared to push centre-back Robbie Wielaert before hitting the back of the net, but the match officials were unmoved.
And the away team pounced again five minutes later, Heart failing to clear their lines and Hersi on hand at the back post to drill the ball to the far corner of Velaphis net, ending the top-two hopes of rivals Central Coast and Melbourne Victory.
Melbourne Heart 2 (Engelaar 34, Hoffman 72)
Western Sydney Wanderers 3 (Topor-Stanley 27, Santalab 81, Hersi 86)
10,003 @ AAMI Park