The 2016/17 Hyundai A-League Finals Series kicks off with an absolute cracker as Brisbane welcome Wanderers to Suncorp in Friday night's Elimination Final. Will we see a repeat of last season’s nine-goal thriller?
These two met in a quite extraordinary finals match a year ago, with Wanderers eventually prevailing 5-4 in extra-time.
Brisbane led 3-0, before Romeo Castelen hit a hat-trick to give Western Sydney a 4-3 lead.
Jamie Maclaren took the game to extra time, but Dario Vidosic supplied Wanderers’ winner.
This time, it really is too close to call.
Of the two, Western Sydney come into this game in better form, having not lost any of their last six matches.
Meantime, Brisbane needed to come back from 3-1 down to beat Wellington 4-3 last weekend and avoid a second straight defeat.
Even so, Brisbane are probably slight favourites by virtue of being at home and Maclaren’s sparkling recent form.
But Wanderers have a fully fit 23-man squad, a rare luxury at this time of the season and even more remarkable given their additional ACL commitments.
They also have significant Finals Series experience.
They won’t have any more games at home though, and for the first time, will need to negotiate their way to the Grand Final from outside the top two.
* Brisbane haven’t trailed the Wanderers at half-time in any of their last seven meetings.
* The Wanderers have won just one of their last seven games at Suncorp Stadium, drawing one and losing five.
* Three of Brisbane’s last six Finals Series games have been against the Wanderers; they’ve won one and lost two of those.
* Roar boast a shooting accuracy of 49.8% this season, the second-best of any team in the competition and nearly two percentage points higher than Western Sydney (47.9%).
* Western Sydney have scored eight headed goals this season, the joint-most of any team in the competition and five more than Brisbane.
ROUTE TO GOAL
When defensive strategies against Roar are drawn up by opposition coaches, stopping Jamie Maclaren is likely to be at the top of the page.
The red-hot marksman scored his 19 th goal of the season last weekend to grab a share of the Golden Boot.
And worryingly for Western Sydney, Maclaren has scored more goals against them than any other Hyundai A-League side.
He’s scored nine times against the Wanderers, including eight goals in his last seven games against them.
And after shouldering the recent goalscoring load almost single-handedly, "Macca" is starting to get some help.
Brett Holman scored an eye-catching brace against Wellington last weekend, while Brandon Borrello, Thomas Broich and Nick D’Agostino have all been on the scoresheet in the last three weeks.
Western Sydney come into the Finals Series as the lowest-scoring of the top six sides, netting just 35 goals in their 27 games.
But Brendon Santalab can lay claim to being as effective as Maclaren, if not more so.
The evergreen Wanderers striker has scored a goal every 76.3 minutes this season, compared to Maclaren’s 110.5 minutes.
He’s also fresh and confident, having played in just one of Western Sydney’s last three A-League games and being named his side’s player of the season on Tuesday night.
Santa’s support cast will need to step up, though.
Nico Martinez is the next highest Wanderers scorer with just four and he’s been goal-less in the last month.
In fact, Santalab’s team-mates have combined for just seven goals in the past ten games.
Hyundai A-League 2017 Elimination Final 1
Friday, 21 April 2017
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-Off: 7:50pm (AEST)
Referee: Jarred Gillett
Assistant Referee 1: David Walsh
Assistant Referee 2: Ashley Beecham
Fourth Official: Peter Green
Video Assistant Referee: Strebre Delovski
TV Broadcast: Live coverage on Fox Sports 505 from 7.00pm (AEST) and Sky Sport Pop-Up (New Zealand). Delayed Broadcast on SBS VICELAND from 8.30pm AEST
Radio Broadcast: ABC Grandstand Online & via the ABC Radio Mobile App – A-league Live, Crocmedia A-League Live ( www.facebook.com/A-LeagueLIVERadio ), Hawkesbury Radio
Join the conversation on Twitter using the hash-tag #ALFinals
To purchase tickets visit www.aleague.com.au
Brisbane Roar FC squad: 1.Michael THEO (gk), 3.Luke DEVERE, 5.Corey BROWN, 6.Avram PAPADOPOULOS, 7.Thomas KRISTENSEN, 8.Jacob PEPPER, 9.Jamie MACLAREN, 10.Brett HOLMAN, 11.Tommy OAR, 13.Jade NORTH (c), 20.Shannon BRADY, 21.Jamie YOUNG (gk), 22.Thomas BROICH, 25.Kye ROWLES, 26.Nick D’AGOSTINO, 28.Brandon BORRELLO, 29.Joe CALETTI, 46.Cameron CRESTANI
**two to be omitted**
Ins: 5.Corey BROWN (promoted), 13.Jade NORTH (returns from illness), 25.Kye ROWLES (promoted)
Outs: 50.Dane INGHAM (not selected)
Unavailable: 4.Daniel BOWLES (knee – season), 15.ARANA (hamstring – 1 week), 17.Matt MCKAY (knee – 1-2 weeks), 19.Jack HINGERT (cheekbone – 1-2 weeks)
Western Sydney Wanderers FC squad: 1.Jerrad TYSON (gk), 2.Shannon COLE, 3.Jack CLISBY, 5.Brendan HAMILL, 6.Mitch NICHOLS, 7.Steven LUSTICA, 8.DIMAS (c), 10.Nicolás MARTÍNEZ, 11.Brendon SANTALAB, 12.Scott NEVILLE, 14.Jumpei KUSUKAMI, 15.Kearyn BACCUS, 16.Jaushua SOTIRIO, 18.Robert CORNTHWAITE, 20.Vedran JANJETOVIC (gk), 22.Jonathan ASPROPOTAMITIS, 23.Lachlan SCOTT, 24.Terry ANTONIS
**two to be omitted**
Ins: 3.Jack CLISBY, 6.Mitch NICHOLS, 11.Brendon SANTALAB, 12.Scott NEVILLE, 14.Jumpei KUSUKAMI, 16.Jaushua SOTIRIO, 22.Jonathan ASPROPOTAMITIS, 23.Lachlan SCOTT, 24.Terry ANTONIS (all promoted)
Outs: 17.Aritz BORDA, 21.Mario SHABOW, 26.Jackson BANDIERA, 28.Stefan ZINNI, 29.Ryan GRIFFITHS, 42.Keanu BACCUS, 49.Abraham MAJOK (all not selected)
Unavailable: 19.Jacob MELLING (back – indefinite)