Carlton v Cosmos

Round 6 report by Alan Clark
Carlton v Canberra Cosmos

Although the contest was between one of last year's Grand Finalists - Carlton, and last season's bottom club - Canberra Cosmos, it took until the early moments of the second half for the class difference to tell.

At half-time the match was elegantly poised - Carlton had taken a deserved lead at the half-hour when David Cervinski had netted from close-range after connecting with a driven cross launched by Andy Vlahos from the right wing.

But then followed Canberra's most convincing moments. If Cervinski could get forward for Carlton, so too could Danny Burt for Cosmos. Anthony Magnacca made regular forays down Canberra's left side, and productively combined with Peter Buljan on several occasions. In the 39th minute a surging Magnacca run from the half-way line along the left wing gave Buljan space at the edge of the penalty area from where his shot went only narrowly over the bar. Just two minutes later, Buljan's control at the last let him down when he stumbled over the ball after seemingly all the hard work had been done in a sweeping movement that started deep in Cosmos territory.

One minute before the break, Magnacca himself nearly equalised with a header after sweetly meeting an Andrew Clark cross, again from the left wing.

But it was to prove a different story in the second half.

Canberra thereafter rarely threatened, and were compelled to cope with wave after wave of sustained Carlton attack.

According to Carlton coach Eddie Krncevic after the match, "There was a bit of a psychological problem. We were playing as if the players imagined they were already five goals up. We were also having difficulty breaking them down because they were playing eleven men behind the ball. I told them at half-time that we had to go diagonal."

Just eight minutes after the re-start, stand-in captain Sean Douglas was able to put that plan into devastating effect. The New Zealand international found himself with the ball at his feet midway in his own half wide on the left and under no pressure from any Cosmos player. Carlton speedster Joe Tricarico had made a run down the right wing and Douglas launched a 40 metre pass perfectly for Tricarico to run onto, beating the challenge of a defender as he did so, and with a clear line to his target. Cosmos goalkeeper Vilson Knezevic ran out to close Tricarico down, but was chipped for the goal that ended any chance of an upset result.

"Eddie did tell us to try to play the diagonal ball," Douglas told me after the game. "It was the only opportunity I had when I had time and I saw Joe waving to me, so I sent it over."

Cosmos coach Rale Rasic substituted Knezevic shortly afterwards and told us after "I changed the keeper because I don't allow errors. The ball was his."

Rasic has a hard task with Cosmos - the run of poor results for more than two seasons now has been disappointing and shows little sign of correcting itself. "Our objective is to be competitive and perform with dignity," he said. "We have a future. We are the youngest team by far in the League - probably forever."

When asked how long Canberra can maintain a side in the national competition, he said the presence of a team from Canberra is vital to the legitimacy of a national league. "The AFL stood by the Sydney Swans during a difficult period when the Swans were not competitive for the sake of a national competition. Without the presence of teams like Canberra, all the national league would be is games between Sydney sides and Melbourne sides."

Canberra made some sporadic attacking moves after that point, but rarely with conviction, and with too few players providing supporting roles. It was clear that in conceding the second goal, the young Cosmos team had written off the match as another loss.

And by comparison, Carlton was rampant. Marco Bresciano was finding room in the middle of the park where previously he had lean pickings. In the 65th minute, he won a ball 40 metres from the Cosmos goal and laid off a ball for Vlahos whose shot crashed off the bar.

There was a flurry of substitutions, one of which was the introduction of Alex Moriera. Moriera's chance to shine perhaps came overly soon for him. A Bresciano corner was floated perfectly inviting Moriera's header which although directed down, was too wide.

Simon Colosimo now joined in the attacks narrowly missing after a five-man attacking move left him with a shooting opportunity, but it wasn't long before the inevitable happened.

After sustained Carlton ball control, Bresciano managed to weave his way by two defenders for Carlton's third and the game's final goal seven minutes from time.

"Today's objective was to get the three points and get back on the road after our recent poor results," said coach Krncevic. "It was a good opportunity to play Adrian Cagalj rather than Dean Anastasiadis in goal. Deano will be back (for the Grand Final replay match against South Melbourne) next week."