With the level of expectation reaching breaking point for the latest installment of the Hyundai A-League, the first round of fixtures saw quality across the board with a flurry of goals on opening weekend building even more hype around the A-League’s 10th year.
With A-League teams across the country already taking part in competitive matches thanks to the introduction of the FFA Cup earlier this year, and the appearance of European giants Juventus taking on the A-League All Stars, the first round was the most anticipated in the competition’s decade-long history and promised plenty of good football. Some of the match-ups were mouthwatering in themselves, thanks in no small part to the amount of investment that occurred in the pre-season transfer market.
Up first were last year’s runners up in both the regular season and the finals series Western Sydney Wanderers pitted against the new-look Melbourne Victory.
Having enlisted strongly in the off-season, Melbourne Victory sought to prove their title credentials in front of a 30,000 strong crowd at the Etihad. What happened on the night however shocked everyone. Within 15 minutes Victory found themselves up 3-0, with the Wanderers failing to find an answer to the sharp attacking football that the Melbournians have become known for. In what would be Kevin Muscat’s first full year in charge, it was imperative for his own confidence and that of the squad’s to get to a good start.
And what a start it was, with only seven minutes on the clock, new boy Matthieu Delpierre executed a perfectly weighted volley off a Gui Finkler free kick to give the home side the lead against the Asian Champions League finalists. The French defender may have been hoping for a clean sheet to mark his first game for the Victory but instead came away with an excellent first goal of the season.
What was a nightmare start for the Wanderers became worse 10 minutes later, when the ball fell to Finkler on the penalty spot who took a touch before firing across goal only for Golec to handle the ball.
Another new boy, this time the renowned goal-smith Besart Berisha, stepped up and slotted home coolly putting the Victory up 2-0.
The Western Sydney side looked to calm down the tempo, already seemingly in damage control, but their confidence was shaken even further when Kosta Barbarouses made a surging run down the right side of the pitch before his rebounded shot was pounced upon by Victory captain Leigh Broxham who put the hosts 3-0 up with less than half an hour played.
Tony Popovic may have lamented the “ugly goals” that saw Melbourne Victory get up in the contest, but the Wanderers didn’t seem to be in the game at all, and the frailties that often face a side who taste the successes the Wanderers have in the past two years really began to show.
Playing a staunch defensive style may often yield positive results, but it really showed that the Wanderers will struggle to play from behind in the upcoming season, and although they managed to find a consolation goal through Mark Bridge just before the break, the game was already effectively killed off before the red and black had really found a rhythm.
Archie Thompson made sure of this not long after the restart, with Berisha once again showing that he may yet prove to be the singing of the season, taking part in 50% of the goals in his first appearance in navy blue.
Saturday’s early kick-off saw old rivals Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets play off in a first round F3 derby.
Though there is much to be said about the rivalries in the A-League harbouring a lot of excitement, this one seemed to fizzle out from kick off, and both teams played out one of the more stoic matches of the round.
Though the Mariners looked dangerous at times, neither team produced anything particularly dazzling, and the contest was capped off by a scrap of a goal from Mitch Duke who poked home from a set piece at the death.
The 92nd minute strike ensured that the Mariners start the season slowly but on a positive note, while the alarm bells must already be sounding for Phil Stubbins, whose Jets looked unorganised and unmotivated throughout the tie.
Arguably the most talked about draw for the first round saw Sydney FC host the newly rebranded Melbourne City FC at Allianz Stadium. Though much has been made about Sydney’s new-look strike force, the night was all about the debut of a certain Spaniard.
Unfortunately for the travelling City fans, David Villa did not get the start many were hoping for and was reduced to a role off the bench. The first half began quite timidly for the home side, with City holding a lot of possession and dominating the chances, with ex-Jets midfielder James Brown rattling the crossbar after just four minutes with a well taken strike from distance.
Sydney were happy to see the end of the first half, and started the second half much brighter after a likely frustrated Graham Arnold had a word with his squad.
Although Villa’s introduction in the 48th minute saw a number of cheers from around the stadium, it was Corey Gameiro who caused a ruckus in front of home fans in the 55th minute, after a brilliant strike saw the home side up 1-0.
Having hit double figures in the pre-season, it was important for the young striker to score early in the season to secure a place it what is looking like a very crowded front line. However, thanks to international duty taking Mark Janko, Bernie Ibini and Shane Smeltz out of the line-up, Gameiro took his chance to secure his name on the team sheet, after Nick Carle fed a well weighted pass down the left channel before Gameiro opened up his body and curled the ball into the top right corner from a tight angle on the edge of the 18 yard box.
Although Sydney looked sharp after the strike, it was Villa who stole the show, receiveing a pass from Damian Duff on the edge of Sydney’s box before taking two light touches and slotting the ball past Vedran Janjetovic to ensure City enjoyed a share of the spoils.
While Fox Sports’ claims of a “world class” goal are an exaggeration, it was classic Villa. He’s done the same wearing the shirts of Zaragoza, Valencia, Barcelona, Atleti and La Roja, and his delayed run saw him pick up the ball, touch past Sebastian Ryall and side-foot into the bottom corner, as clinical as you will see on these shores.
Terry Antonis had the opportunity to win the game for the home side in the dying minutes but was rudely denied by the cross bar. Having had a rough start to the match, Antonis really came into his own as the game progressed and his 30-yard volley might have capped off an excellent performance had it been just an inch lower having comfortably beaten goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne.
Sunday’s early fixture saw a potential bottom of the table clash between Wellington Phoenix and Perth Glory. However, the match looked to be anything but, with both sides starting brightly and creating chances left, right and centre.
The highly entertaining opening to the match seemed to promise goals galore and it was Perth who struck first through Andy Keigh after Mitch Nichols whipped in a great cross that was touched on by the striker.
The free-flowing start to the match stalled though, and it wasn’t until the final 20 minutes that Wellington finally broke down the a stubborn Perth defence, with McGlingchy making a darting run into the box to finish an excellent cut back from Nathan Burns.
The game seemed destined to be a draw, with the initial spark in the game dying as tired legs ruled the pitch. Substitute Jamie Maclaren had other ideas though and he ran onto a well-threaded through ball before launching an unstoppable strike from inside the 18 yard box that rose all the way into the back of the net, leaving Phil Moss stunned and awarding Glory with a rare away win in New Zealand.
Finally, Ange Postecoglou has stated in the media that he was impressed with the quality on show in the first round of the league, and he surely would’ve had his mind focused on the clash between last year’s champions and Adelaide United at the site of Brisbane Roar’s latest title triumph, Suncorp Stadium.
With both teams boasting ball-playing football, happily keeping the ball on the pitch for long stretches and easing passes to and fro, it would be difficult initially to determine whether or not this tie would see goals or whether the two teams would cancel each other out.
Adelaide, to the surprise of many, absolutely dominated the centre of the park early on however, and Brisbane struggled to keep up with the pace set by the visitors.
After 19 minutes, it seemed as if Brisbane finally began to find their rhythm, and were rewarded after Thomas Broich’s free kick managed to sneak in through a crowd of bodies to put the home side 1-0.
Not long after, Brisbane’s keeper Jamie Young, depustising for the injured Michale Theo, made an excellent save to deny Pablo Sanchez. Having stemmed the initial Adelaide attack, Young was looking confident in goal, but Bruce Djite had a confidence of his own, and put his side back in contention after a spectacular strike from 25 yards rattled the back of the net for what was the goal of the round despite the other quality contenders.
Half-time did not see a change in pace, with both sides continuing their rampant attacking football with intent, but it wasn’t to be for the Roar, who were caught out in the 55th minute when Sergio Cirio flung in an excellent cross that James Donachie unfortunately sent into his own net.
With the scores at 2-1, tempers began to flare, and Matt Mckay found himself on the end of a red card after abusing the referee, seconds after being given a yellow card.
With Brisbane down to 10 men it was up to the United to see the game out and they were able to do so without too much resistance, taking a very good 3 points away from the champions and firing a warning signal that they may have something to say in this year’s title race.
Results in full:
Melbourne Victory 4-1 Western Sydney; Central Coast 1-0 Newcastle Jets; Sydney FC 1-1 Melbourne City; Wellington Phoenix 1-2 Perth Glory; Brisbane Roar 1-2 Adelaide United.