1997 National Soccer League Playoff results
1996-97 Season Playoff Series Matches
written by Thomas Esamie

The top six teams of the regular season meet in matches as shown in home and away legs. Matches marked '1', '2' and '3' are single elimination games, winner of Match 3 is crowned Champion of the 1996-97 season.

Sydney Utd v Brisbane -----------winner-----------------------3___Grand Final
                      \____loser________________              /
Ad City v Marconi -------winner___              /
Sth Melb v Melb Knights __winner__/

Grand Final Match, winner becomes champion
Played (25/5/1997) Suncorp Stadium
Referee : S Micallef, Crowd : 40446
Brisbane Strikers
Clint Bolton, Glen Gwynne (Matt Bell 88), Alan Hunter, Frank Farina (Reece Tollenaere 80), Sean Cranney, Rod Brown, Danny Wright, Troy Cranney, Chay Hews (Jeremy Harris 79), Kasey Wehrman, Craig Williams
Goals : Farina 47, Brown 69
2 - 0 Sydney United
Zeljko Kalac, Robert Trajkovski (Jason Culina 63), Velimir Kupresak, Mark Babic, Richard Plesa, Kresimir Marusic, Ante Moric, Ante Milicic, Aytek Genc, David Zdrilic, Paul Bilokapic (Mark Rudan 81)
A record crowd, a popular win and beautiful weather. The capacity crowd was barely into their seats when a Chay Hews shot at goal inside the first minute had them out of their seats. Kalac clawing the ball around the post for the corner to prevent any fairytale beginnings. The first half as a whole was very defensive, that shot by Hews Brisbanes only chance of note and Bolton was barely troubled by Sydney United though he did help his cause by catching all the high balls in the area confidently. Brisbane were also well serves by Man-of-the-Match winner Alan Hunter in defence. The bumpy pitch (a rugby league game had been played there on Friday night) played a part in the opening goal when an awkward bounce eluded Mark Babic and came to the tightly marked Farina who managed to poke the ball goalwards, successfully passing Kalac. Once that goal went in Brisbane played more attack and Sydney managed to do a little better themselves. In an attempt to change the game the Sydney coach brought on his son, making the 16-year-old the youngest to play in a grand final. Then as United and Kupresak pushed forward in attack the ball was lost and Sean Cranney was sent flying down the left flank and in front of goal his brother and Rod Brown outnumbered the sole defender. The low cross found Brown who sidefooted past a hopelessly stranded Kalac. The rest of the game was now a formality before the celebrations began.
Match report by David Marshall

Preliminary Final, loser eliminated, winner into Grand Final
Played (18/5/1997) Parramatta Stadium
Referee : B Hugo, Crowd : 8059
Sydney United
Zeljko Kalac, Velimir Kupresak, Robert Enes, Richard Plesa, Robert Trajkovski, Jason Culina, Paul Bilokapic, Ante Moric, Ante Milicic, Kresimir Marusic, David Zdrilic
Goal : Milicic 68
1 - 0 South Melbourne
Jason Petkovic, Con Blatsis, Fausto DeAmicis, Nick Orlic, Steve Panopoulos, Bill Damianos, David Clarkson, Steve Iosifidis (Jason Polak 71), Vaughan Coveny (Ivan Kelic 75), Paul Trimboli, Michael Curcija
So it is that the top two teams of the regular season playoff against one another for the championship next week. My sense of footballing justice says that Sydney should be this seasons champion but oddly enough I want the Bananabenders to win. On to this game. In the first half South Melbourne were the more attacking side, eventhough Sydney hit the bar, and if Coveny hadn't been ruled offside (and replays show he was onside) South Melbourne would have had the lead. Any Brisbane fans would have been pleased to see Enes and DeAmicis earn yellow cards to rule them out of the final game. Lucky for Zdrilic he only got a stern word from the ref for charging at the keeper, otherwise he too would have been out. In the second half some very nice play to watch from both sides but it was the set play which brought the goal. A break led to a corner as Milicic's attempted cross was blocked. Marusic took the corner finding the head of the diving Zdrilic at the near post. However the glancing header went across goal until, that is, Milicic volleyed it into the net at the far post. Infact Marusic was, to me, the difference between the sides this day. He held posession, put people into gaps, passed precisely and even defended on a few occasions. On the whole Souths put in a better team performance but after the goal desperation got the better of them and they failed to make the chances they got stick. Again the match made the news for the wrong reasons when a combination of flares, a pitch invasion and ill-feeling between Greek and Croatian morons led to Police being assaulted and threats of expulsion for next season by the governing body and headlines in news services as far afield as the BBC.
Post-Match report by (name withheld by request)

Minor Semi-Final, loser eliminated, winner into Preliminary Final
Played (11/5/1997) Olympic Park
Referee : S Micallef, Crowd : 6500
South MelbourneASDET
Michael Petkovic, Con Blatsis, Nick Orlic, Steve Panopoulos (Jason Polak 85), Vaughan Coveny, Paul Trimboli, Steve Iosifidis, Bill Damianos, David Clarkson, Michael Curcija (Ivan Kelic 68), Fausto DeAmicis
Goal : Blatsis 91
1 - 0 Adelaide CityASDET
Jason Petkovic, Bradley Armour, Mark Yates, Milan Ivanovic, Alex Tobin, Bradley Hassell, Dino Mennillo, John Gibson, Michael Brooks (Travis Dodd 75), Kosta Salapasidis (Michael Musitano 46), Nick Sabljak
The previous week Adelaide pulled off a win in sudden death extra time, this week they suffered at the hands of this system merely seconds into extra time. The previous 90 minutes wasn't exactly brimming with goalmouth action, a few chances here and there to both sides. Then roughly 15 seconds into extra time Polak's run down the right was ended by a Sabljak tackle which resulted in a Damianos free kick and Con Blatsis timed his run and jump better than anyone else though some of the blame must be borne by Jason Petkovic who neither stayed on his line nor made enough effort to get to the ball first. Also a special mention to Milan Ivanovic, ol' Vlad copped his second yellow card of the series in this game and then played a swashbuckling game knowing that he was suspended for the next game anyway, the man's a legend.
Match report by David Arnold

Major Semi-Final, loser into Preliminary Final, winner into Grand Final
1st leg Played (3/5/1997) Suncorp Stadium
Referee : E Lennie, Crowd : 14666
Brisbane Strikers
Clint Bolton, Alan Hunter, Frank Farina, Troy Cranney, Sean Cranney, Rod Brown, Danny Wright, Wayne Knipe (Gary Phillips 45), Kasey Wehrman (Chay Hews 82), Craig Williams, Nick Meredith
Goal : S Cranney 62
1 - 0 Sydney United
John Perosh, Robert Trajkovski, Velimir Kupresak, Mark Babic, Robert Enes, Kresimir Marusic (Damir Cvetko 82), Ante Moric, Ante Milicic, Aytek Genc (Jacob Burns 45), David Zdrilic, Paul Bilokapic
The winner of the tie will host the grand final and Brisbane are a real pain in the arse to beat at home, this win has Brisbane looking good for hosting. The match itself, if anything, slightly favoured Sydney in terms of play, certainly in the first half. Both goalkeepers played very well, Bolton especially pulling off some exceptional saves. The second half saw a redoubling of Brisbane's effort to get that vital home win and finally they did. After an hour or so of play Alan Hunter won a ball in midfield and sent Troy Cranney down the left sideline. Cranney passed to Meredith who was on a parallel course and took the ball to the goalline before cutting the ball back to Sean Cranney who sidefooted the ball insidethe far post. Neat. Though on the night Marusic, Sydney's chief playmaker, was subdued his injury late in the game may not only have cost Sydney in this game but perhaps the next also.
Match report by David Marshall
Match report by Mick Kugelman
2nd leg Played (11/5/1997) Parramatta Stadium
Referee : E Brazzale, Crowd : 7127
Sydney United
Zeljko Kalac, Mark Babic, Robert Enes, Velimir Kupresak, Robert Trajkovski, Jason Culina (John Didulica 75), Paul Bilokapic, Ante Moric, David Zdrilic, Kresimir Marusic (Damir Cvetko 46), Ante Milicic
Goals : Culina 25, Marusic 35
2 - 1 Brisbane Strikers
Clint Bolton, Glen Gwynne, Craig Williams, Alan Hunter, Sean Cranney, Kasey Wehrman (Andrew Brayshaw 46), Gary Phillips (Matt Bell 58), Nick Meredith (Chay Hews 38), Troy Cranney, Rod Brown, Wayne Knipe
Goal : Knipe 77
Quite a game really. Sydney United pretty much owned the first half and should have walked the match home. The thing is they actually *did* try to walk it home. Coach Branko Culina denied he instructed his team to sit on their lead but that's what they did. A Milicic header was parried into the path of Culina who sidefooted past Bolton for the opening goal and when Marusic masterfully took a free kick from just outside the box and scored Sydney looked home and hosed. The kick was taken pretty much in front of goal and Bolton had set the wall and as the kick was taken he barely moved to the open side before he realised the ball was looping over the wall and heading the other way. The end effect was an unmoving Bolton and a suitably pleased Marusic. I'm all for fasttracking Marusic's citizenship so that we can plonk him into the World Cup team. Sadly for United he was replaced, suffering from injury, and then granted Brisbane a glut of possession and they gleefully went about finding an away goal. Nick Meredith suffered a knee injury but thankfully the Cranney boys were playing well and it was Chay Hews who threaded a ball to one Cranney on the byline and the latter squared the ball past Kalac to the other Cranney whose mis-hit was desperately hooked off the line by Babic but Knipe blasted the ball into the net. The away goal enough for Brisbane to host the Grand Final.
Match report by David Borella

Elimination Final, loser eliminated, winner into Minor Semi-Final
1st leg Played (26/4/1997) Marconi Stadium
Referee : S Micallef, Crowd : 7309
Bob Catlin, Paul Souris, Matthew Bingley (Robert Stanton 86), Dominic Longo (Aaron Holst 38), Andrew Harper, Craig Foster, Brad Maloney, Vlado Zoric, Luke Casserly, Sean Babic, Francis Awaritefe (Mark Robertson 51)
Goals : Foster 17, Babic 67, Harper 72
3 - 0 Adelaide City
Jason Petkovic, Mark Yates, Alex Tobin (Angelo Costanzo 38), Milan Ivanovic, Bradley Armour (sent off 84), Kosta Slapasidis (Michael Musitano 70), John Gibson, Brad Hassell, Mark Brazzale, Michael Brooks, Dino Mennillo
New father Craig Foster began what was a brilliant night for Marconi against his former club when a long ball forward was well held up by Awaritefe and he then rolled the ball into Fosters path for his run down the centre. The shot from Foster was deflected by Petkovic but there wasn't enough behind it to stop it from going into the net. Costanzo came on, for a groin injured Tobin, complete with protective goggles and the defence was thereby weakened. After halftime a corner was poorly cleared by Adelaide and fell to Foster who let go with a long range effort through a crowded area which Petkovic pushed back out but Babic was first to react and rolled the ball into goal ahead of the Adelaide defenders trying to stop him. Marconi scored a third when a booking of Armour gave Marconi a free kick which was skilfully dribbled down the left by Robertson and the cross found an unmarked Harper at the edge of the 6 yard box and not even Harps could miss that one. The Adelaide defenders seemed more concerned with Babic at the near post. To end Adelaide's misery Armour was booked again, after his foul on Zoric he pulled off a really effective trip on Maloney, and was sent off. It had been coming.
Match report by Chris Dunkerley
2nd leg Played (4/5/1997) Norwood Oval
Referee : G Connolly, Crowd : 3506
Adelaide CityASDET
Jason Petkovic, Mark Yates, Milan Ivanovic, Alex Tobin, Angelo Costanzo, Brad Hassell, Dino Mennillo (Mark Brazzale 94), John Gibson, Michael Brooks (Michael Musitano 86), Kosta Salapasidis (Travis Dodd 71), Nick Sabljak
Goals : Mennillo 35, Harper 36og, Brooks 48, Musitano 95
4 - 0 Marconi-FairfieldASDET
Bob Catlin, Matthew Bingley (Eric Hristodoulou 87), Andrew Harper, Craig Foster, Brad Maloney, Aaron Holst, Mark Robertson, Sean Babic, Francis Awaritefe (Darren McDonald 90), Paul Souris, Vlado Zoric (Robert Stanton 46)
A lesson in how to lose the unloseable tie. With Hindmarsh under reconstruction Adelaide had to play at Norwood Oval which is more of an Australian Rules Football ground. Adelaide pressed Marconi hard, they had to, and had a load of shots at goal before Dino Mennillo finally made one count after receiving a pass from Ivanovic who spotted the unmarked player. Marconi got even more jittery after a corner travelled all the way across the goalface unheeded and Alex Tobin "let's try that again" sent the ball back where Harper tried to make up for the now out of position Catlin but failed to head the ball high enough to clear the crossbar. After halftime another corner brought Adelaide level on aggregate when a Tobin header was cleared off the line but Brooks followed up and scored. (There is some doubt as to whether the ball crossed the line from Tobin's header..TV replays suggest it didn't). Despite efforts from both sides to decide the matter in 90 minutes the tie was level at full time and Sudden Death extra time was played. Sean Babic had a one on one with Petkovic for Marconi to win after all but Musitano made more of his chance, again from a corner, heading in at the far post.
Match report by Lance Librandi

Elimination Final, loser eliminated, winner into Minor Semi-Final
1st leg Played (27/4/1997) Somer st. Stadium
Referee : B Hugo, Crowd : 5326
Melbourne Knights
Joe Didulica, Dragi Nastevski, David Cervinski, Zoran Markovski, Andrew Marth, Nick Tasevski, Ice Kutlesovski, Tom Pondeljak, Ante Kovacevic, Ivan Duzel (Ante Deak 57), Adrian Cervinski
Goal : A Cervinski 82
1 - 4 South Melbourne
Michael Petkovic, Con Blatsis, Jason Polak, Steve Panopoulos, Vaughan Coveny, Paul Trimboli, Steve Iosifidis, Bill Damianos (Mike Petersen 88), David Clarkson, Michael Curcija (Ivan Kelic 77), Fausto DeAmicis
Goals : Curcija 47, Coveny 52, Panopoulos 60pk, Trimboli 89
I got an E-Mail from Ante Kovacevic, and accidentally deleted it, so Ante, if you're reading this, please mail me again.
A goalless first half reflected the tight nature of these Melbourne derbies, the Knights with an edge in the number of useful chances but Souths dangerous too. After the break South Melbourne hit the front with an extremely well taken shot from outside the area by Curcija to elude the flying Didulica. The element of surprise you know, but there were precious few defenders in sight who might have stopped the shot being taken. The second goal came minutes later, just as the Knights were building up with a nice move the ball was intercepted by Blatsis who ran half the length of the field and played the ball to Coveny who had peeled off to the left. Coveny's shot clipped off the keepers shin as he tried to spread himself but the goal was scored regardless much to the delight of the away support. Dragi Nastevski had tried to make up for a loose defensive header by a teammate falling to Coveny after an hour of play, sadly for the Knights he did it by launching himself into Coveny's back inside the box. It was a stupid thing to do since Coveny didn't really look like controlling the ball in any hurry but Panopoulos scored from the spot. Keeper and shooter both going to their respective left. Credit to the Knights for fighting the good fight and they seemed to get a measure of reward when Tasevski and Pondeljak on the right contrived to get a cross to the unmarked Cervinski at the far post. He set himself for the shot back across the goal and found the net in emphatic style. Just to remind the home fans about who was winning Souths scored again. Damianos took a free kick near the sideline and a defensive error gave Coveny a shot which was well saved by the keeper but he was helpless to do anything about Trimboli's follow-up effort.
Match report by Damian
2nd leg Played (4/5/1997) Lakeside Stadium
Referee : M Breeze, Crowd : 5147
South Melbourne
Michael Petkovic, Con Blatsis, Jason Polak, Steve Panopoulos (Mike Petersen 72), Vaughan Coveny (Ivan Kelic 51), Paul Trimboli, Steve Iosifidis, Bill Damianos, David Clarkson (Nick Orlic 51), Michael Curcija, Fausto DeAmicis
Goals : Curcija 1, 25, Panopoulos 32
3 - 0 Melbourne Knights
Joe Didulica, Dragi Nastevski, Zoran Markovski (David Cervinski 63), Andrew Marth, Marjan Tasevski, Ice Kutlesovski, Tom Pondeljak (Damian Vojtek 46), Ante Kovacevic, Ivan Duzel (Ante Deak 46), Ransford Banini, Adrian Cervinski
Barely seconds into the match Paul Trimboli was rampaging down the middle, he was checked by a defender but the ball fell to Curcija whose first time shot found the net despite Didulica's best efforts to prevent this. As the rain fell, dampening the crowd physically and the Knights aspirations on another plane, Michael Curcija scored his second in virtually the same manner as his goal in the first leg. Infact I think he's been practising that one. Steve Panopoulos' shot on the turn from a Trimboli cross ended it all, the second half still favouring Souths but the conditions and some degree of complacency on both sides did not lend themselves to a grandstand finish. The match made headlines around the country due to the mindless violence of 'fans' who smashed shopfronts near the stadium. One assumes they were disgruntled Knights followers though there is some doubt about this. One thing is clear and that is that they were socially and mentally retarded cowards.