Sydney FC win thrilling A-League grand final on penalties
EVEN with the lottery of penalties, any other result would have been a travesty.
Sydney FC, the best team this season by a country mile, are officially A-League Champions after they beat Melbourne Victory in front of over 40,000 fans at Allianz Stadium.
Appropriately, it was Milos Ninkovic who sealed Sydney's triumph with his spot-kick. Has any team in A-League history deserved this title more? It's been a record-breaking season for Sydney, deservedly capped off with the biggest title.
It was an epic battle, a worthy spectacle, with the teams unable to be separated after 120 gruelling minutes.
Rhyan Grant had earlier cancelled out Besart Berisha's goal and with the score locked at 1-1, the game went into extra time. James Troisi came within inches of winning it for Victory when his volley in the second period of extra time crashed into the woodwork, but there was still no separating the two sides and so the Grand Final was decided by penalties.
The opening 20 minutes were always going to be crucial and Victory asserted themselves during it. Carl Valeri and Leigh Broxham bossed the midfield, with Josh Brillante and Brandon O'Neill struggling to get a grip on the game for Sydney. Ninkovic was, unsurprisingly, targeted by Victory, with the Serbian star shackled and prevented from pulling the strings.
It was fierce and feisty early on - on the pitch and off it - but Sydney were made to pay for not capitalising on a brief, bright spell. Lawrence Thomas thwarted Michael Zullo's attempt in the 16th minute, then a last-ditch clearance from Daniel Georgievksi kept the scores level, but barely two minutes later Victory had their lead. And you hardly had to guess who snatched it.
Berisha, the man for the big occasion, went on a solo run and space opened up for him to take a shot from just inside the box. It was a clinical finish - his seventh consecutive finals series goal - and there was little Danny Vukovic could do to stop it. It was also just the 13th goal Sydney had conceded all season.
It was physical, intense and full of niggle, with Victory successfully getting into Sydney's heads.
Then it erupted in the 34th minute, when Ninkovic reacted to a tackle from Broxham. Just about every player on the field got involved into the melee that followed, with Ninkovic, James Troisi and Filip Holosko all ending up in the book.
Victory led by one at half time and the break couldn't come fast enough for Sydney, who needed the time to compose themselves.
But the beginning of the second half was still a struggle and Arnold responded by making an early substitution, bringing David Carney on for Holosko. It would be a telling one.
The breakthrough finally came in the 69th minute when Carney's initial shot hit the post, the ball bounced back and Grant stabbed it home with his right foot.
With extra time approaching and yellow cards coming thick and fast, Arnold made another change, bringing Matt Simon on for Bobo.