Souths v Syd Utd

Grand Final report by Alan Clark
South Melbourne v Sydney United

South Melbourne achieved back-to-back Championships, coming from behind to win 3-2 over Sydney United at Melbourne's Olympic Park on Sunday. With the win comes the considerable prize of becoming Australia's representative in the Oceania qualifiers for the inaugural FIFA World Clubs' Cup.

This showdown meeting of South Melbourne and Sydney United in the 1999 Championship game was an appropriate one.

In their meetings in the home-and-away phase of the season both had managed a 1-0 home win. Over two legs in their Finals Series meeting, South had narrowly won 2-1. It would not have been a travesty had Sydney United won that contest - the margin of difference between the two was negligible.

These sides had been in a class of their own throughout the year, and no other team had realistically looked capable of challenging their hegemony.

United took an early lead in the Grand Final from an eighth minute header from Olyroo Mile Sterjovski converting the Pumas' first corner ably taken by Michael Santalab.

There was the possibility, given the tight nature of the teams' previous four meetings, that this goal might just be enough, and that the remaining 82 minutes might be tight and dour. But this was to underestimate both teams' desire to land the knock-out blow.

United peppered the South goal, winning a series of corners, each one with the potential to stretch the lead.

There were hard-fought battles in all positions on the park, with the type of tackling and refusal to concede ground expected in the season's ultimate match. At times, it threatened to boil over - one such moment came just before the end of the first period when a tackle on Steve Panopoulos by David Barrett left the diminutive South midfielder on the ground, only to be hit by the ball deliberately struck at him after the foul was awarded. This provoked angry scenes and the involvement of players of both sides and their respective benches before order was restored. Three players - Barrett, Fausto De Amicis, and Nathan Day - found themselves booked for the incident.

Trimboli was fortunate not to be booked for his part in the melee, and it would not have been surprising had he even been red-carded. Had he, the shape of the decisive second half, and his key role in changing South's fortunes would have likely been considerably different.

Speaking of the incident later, Trimboli said, "It's a big occasion, and there's a lot of tension. People are pretty fired-up. I just thought there was a cheap shot there by one of their players, and I don't think that's necessary."

Sydney United had made most of the running in the first half, aided by a handy wind, but it was in the early moments of the second half that the balance tipped South Melbourne's way. It was captain Trimboli who made the breakthrough, scoring eight minutes into that half, with a header from a corner swung in from Goran Lozanovski, and which got by Santalab at the near post.

Describing the game-turning goal, Trimboli said, "Lozza whips a pretty mean ball in, and United weren't putting anyone in that spot just at the front, and I knew that if it dipped, then I'd been a pretty good chance to score there. I thought a couple before that might come to me, but then that one came to me and I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best!"

United coach David Mitchell understood the significance of the South goal, "(Trimboli's) goal really lifted them. If we had kept them out, I think we would have been alright."

Both coaches stated that the strong wind which was favouring the river end made it hard to defend and clear that end.

Mitchell said, "The wind was very strong. It picked up and pinned us in (in the second half). Every time we kicked the ball it was just coming back. It was difficult to play, and that added more pressure because (South) are very good with the long throw and the free-kicks.

Echoing Mitchell's assessment of the influence of the wind, South coach Ange Postecoglou said, "I felt the wind was going to play a huge part. I was noticing their free-kicks and corners and they were causing us all sorts of problems because the wind has a bite to it. Our clearances weren't clearing our lines and their clearances were putting us under pressure. I knew all those things would turn in the second half, so it was just a matter of resisting (in the first half)."

After 63 minutes came a moment straight from a Boys' Own Annual. John Anastasiadis, warming the bench for the first hour, was introduced as a swap up front for South's Olyroo Michael Curcija.

Anastasiadis had been on the park for fewer seconds than his shirt-number, finding himself in exactly the right place to batter home a ball after a David Clarkson-Lozanovski double act free-kick on the left had lofted the ball for Nick Orlic to head into Anastasiadis' path.

"It was so dangerous on these free-kicks, the way the wind was bending them in - it was very difficult," a disappointed Mitchell said.

Sydney United had been pushing for the equaliser which would allow them to retain their Championship hopes even if only by forcing the game into extra-time. But there was increasingly space left at the back which South could exploit. When the conclusive strike came it was effected with deadly precision and speed.

Anastasiadis confirmed his status as super-sub, netting his second, and South's third with just three minutes remaining. Clarkson and Jim Tsekenis had made ground up the right and sent in another cross, clearing Vaughan Coveny but falling perfectly for Anastasiadis to head home spectacularly.

Speaking of the substitution, Postecoglou said, "We've got quality players on the bench, like John, George Goutzioulis, Jim Tsekenis - Jason Polak and Robert Liparoti didn't even get on the pitch today, and I'd suggest they'd probably play in most other teams. That's what's got us to the Final, and in the Final that was the difference between the two teams."

Anastasiadis described the goal as coming from the training-ground, "I don't score many with my head. Vaughan Coveny was in front of me taking the near post and I was on the back post, and that's basically what we've been training at."

This was a signal for the celebrations to begin from the South Melbourne massed support, who could scarcely have believed the change of fortunes after conceding the early goal.

Clarkson, having seen the net-billowing end of the move in which he had been so instrumental, lay supine and exhausted in mid-pitch, staring up at the sky with his arms above his head while the crowd erupted, and Anastasiadis rushed to receive their acclaim. The hard-working midfielder had been through two weeks that would have tested the fortitude of anyone, and perhaps it was at this point he realised the enormity of the combination of events, finally able to put to one side the pressure of elite sporting endeavour, and now thinking he could concentrate fully on pressing family matters.

Into stoppage time, Danny Townsend scored for Sydney United in a scramble which tightened the contest, but referee Simon Micaleff's whistle came too soon for Pumas' efforts to draw other than small consolation.

"We showed today we could play good football," Mitchell said. "I couldn't praise the boys highly enough. All the players played with heart and commitment.

"The next couple of weeks we're just going to take stock, and approach all the players and see where we find ourselves."