The NRMA Insurance Western Sydney Wanderers are into their third Grand Final in only four seasons of existence after making the biggest comeback in Australian football history.Not once since the formation of the National Soccer League in 1977 has a team come back to win from 3-0 down but the Red & Black from Western Sydney made history yet again as they rampaged to defeat Brisbane Roar 5-4.
It was an all-time classic. Wanderers were seemingly consigned to a devastating semi-final exit after the side were rocked by three early goals, but Romeo Castelen’s hat-trick and Brendon Santalab’s 11th of the season paved the way for substitute Dario Vidosic to snatch an extra-time winner in front of 20,084 fans.
Brisbane have forged a reputation as the competition’s comeback kings and a recent string of iconic finals moments has the Queenslanders achievements etched firmly in Hyundai A-League folklore.
But the history books disintegrated in an achievement that will surely rival – if not supersede – the litany of historic turnarounds witnessed on Australian shores.
The Wanderers were dead and buried in just twenty minutes.
It was a start that defied all logic. Brisbane were awarded a penalty in sensational fashion when Spaniard Andreu, so often the selfless, reliable heart of the Wanderers outfit was called up for a deliberate handball.
The resulting penalty was clinically dispatched by Dimitri Petratos to give John Aloisi’s men the early advantage.
No sooner than fifteen minutes later and the Wanderers’ dreams of a third Grand Final appearance in four years appeared to be reduced to dust. Brisbane tripled their lead, first through Andreu’s own goal and then Jamie Maclaren’s deflected effort.
It was the stuff of nightmares for the Red & Black. In their final date at the original Wanderland, Pirtek Stadium looked set for a premature demolition.
The comeback began just three minutes after Maclaren’s nineteenth of the season when Romeo Castelen thundered a free-kick past a tame Brisbane wall.
It was a fragment of hope for the Wanderers and the cheers that met the Dutchman’s strike were strained with trepidation rather than genuine optimism.
But when Brendon Santalab pulled another one back after outwitting Roar centre half James Donachie and sliding underneath Jamie Young, a feeling of replenished belief resonated around Parramatta.
An exhibition of formula one football from Tony Popovic’s side followed, the Brisbane defence simply melting in the face of the host’s white-hot attacking momentum and it was the stunning Castelen – perpetual motion on the right flank – who completed the comeback, and an astonishing hat trick, within the hour mark.
The Dutchman firstly restored parity inside the penalty area, burying a rebound after Jamie Young had thwarted Mitch Nichols, and sent Wanderland into delirium with his third, rifling home from outside the box after Young had cleared a Dimas corner.
The Wanderers have embraced a series of euphoric highs in their short history but this was an unrivalled category of ecstasy for the Red & Black faithful.
Incredibly though, the jubilation was short lived. Brisbane were level with ten minutes to spare when Jamie Maclaren, so often the scourge of the Wanderers this campaign, planted an assured finish on the end of Tommy Oar’s scuffed shot-cum-cross to force extra-time.
Perhaps surprisingly after 90 minutes of exhilarating action, there wasn’t the slightest inkling of conservatism from the Wanderers when play resumed.
And it was this valiant insistence to keep knocking on the Brisbane door that resulted in Dario Vidosic’s deserved match winner.
The substitute had a curling effort palmed away by Young, but the situation was rescued through Mark Bridge’s superhuman effort to keep the ball alive and Vidosic sliced between the Brisbane centre halves to book a ticket to Adelaide.
Wanderers Members can book a ticket to Adelaide too with emails already sent out to purchase tickets. Non-Members can find ticket information here.
Adelaide United v Western Sydney Wanderers
4pm Sunday 1 May (AEST)