Why are Brisbane the best team in A-League history?

By ANDREW DEMACK:

Grand Final

Hyundai A-League Season 9 (2013/2014)

Brisbane Roar FC 2 (Berisha 86, Henrique 108) 

defeated

Western Sydney Wanderers FC 1 (Spiranovic 56)

It was billed as a clash of styles, a clash of titans, possession football versus counter-attacking, purists vs pragmatists, the irresistible force against the immovable object, but when it came to the game, it was simply the team that wanted it most which won.

Brisbane Roar are the A-League champions for Season 9 of the Hyundai A-League. The Roar defeated Western Sydney Wanderers 2-1 in a gripping grand final in front of a sold-out Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane last night.

Matthew Spiranovic opened the scoring for the Wanderers, with a near-post header from a Shinji Ono corner in the 56th minute.

The Roar evened it up with only four minutes left on the clock, when Besart Berisha nodded home a perfect chipped free-kick from Thomas Broich.

Both the opener from the Wanderers and the equaliser from Brisbane were the product of superb delivery from set pieces. In this aspect of the game, and many others as well, there is very little that separates these two teams, the best the A-League has to show.

So after normal time had elapsed, the game was tied 1-1, and yet again it would be extra-time in a Suncorp grand final. In all three of their A-League grand finals, Brisbane have conceded the first goal.

It’s not true to say that one team or the other looked fresher or fitter during extra-time. But there were certainly individuals on the field who could still make the runs upfield, and and still close down opposition attackers a moment later. And those people were Ivan Franjic and Matt McKay, and after that the liveliest players on the field were all the substitutes (Haliti, Donachie, Henrique, Mooy, Juric, Lustica).

And it was two of the Roar substitutes who created the winning goal in the 108th minute. Henrique, the half-pint-sized Brazilian battled for a header in the box against La Rocca, and the balled spilled out to James Donachie on the right side.

Donachie crossed the ball back into Henrique, and time stood still. The Wanderers’ defence were all on their heels. Henrique was all alone. He took a touch to control. The ball sat up nicely for him. Still no defenders in the same post code. And finally, eventually, agonisingly, Henrique smashed the ball into the top of the net.

In all three of their A-League grand final appearances, Brisbane have conceded the first goal. And then gone on to win.

After the game Mike Mulvey, an A-League champion coach in his first full season in charge, gave a nod to those who had gone before him. He said that long before he arrived at the club, the mentality was that they never give up.

And he is right. The reasons for this Brisbane team’s success go back to foundations built by Ange Postecoglu, now Socceroos coach.

When discussing the Roar, most people first talk about possession football, as epitomised elsewhere in the world by Barcelona. But very few mention supreme fitness. And the players, especially Matt McKay, have often talked about how hard the Roar work to enable this style of play, and to be able to play out every second of every game.

Wanderers coach Tony Popovic said in his press conference after the game that the Wanderers had dominated the first half of the game.

And it is true that Brisbane found it hard to play out of defence because of the pressing defence of the Wanderers. But just stopping the other team’s attack isn’t domination. Because the Wanderers were also pushed back when in possession. Just because Brisbane had more possession, but were unable to create chances with it, doesn’t indicate dominance from the Wanderers, or indeed tactical superiority at half time.

Football games don’t finish at half-time.

And quite often, grand finals don’t finish at full time either.

Mulvey and the Brisbane Roar knew this.

Brisbane Roar won the A-League by a comfortable margin, by playing the best football in the league and also being the fittest, hungriest and most intense team in the competition. They also trust their ability to defend within the rules, and give away the fewest fouls and yellow cards in the league, even taking into account Berisha’s three brain-explosion red cards this year.

All of these things add up to better football, which is winning football.

Brisbane don’t win the Fair Play award each year because their mums have told them to play nice. It is because their style of play is based on matching every team they play against with their defensive pressure, by being close enough to their opponents to nip in and steal the ball away, rather than having to chop down opposition strikers and give away yellow cards.

So although Brisbane play the nearest approximation in the A-League of the beautiful possession game, it is not because it’s beautiful or pure that Mulvey has them playing like this. It is because this style of football wins games, and wins leagues, and wins grand finals.

Brisbane Roar are the ultimate pragmatists in the A-League … they know what it takes to win the competition, and now they’ve done that three times.

I really believe that when Ange Postecoglu started his revolution at the Brisbane Roar, that he had a long-term goal in mind. He wanted to raise the standard of football in Australia. To encourage players in the A-League to develop.

It is the Australian players in teams such as Brisbane Roar (and Adelaide United, and Central Coast Mariners) who will be targets for overseas clubs because they play in a style that will prosper in higher standard leagues in Europe and Asia.

There is much to admire about Tony Popovic’s Western Sydney Wanderers. The team is cohesive, and also super fit and organised. A few of Popovic’s choices would not be my choices … I can’t see why Juric isn’t selected ahead of Santalab, I think Mooy gives them much more creativity when he is on the park at the same time as Ono, but Poppa prefers have two defensive midfielders, which I can’t see a need for in the A-League (maybe in the ACL).

The WSW supporters came in their thousands to Suncorp, and contributed enormously to the most amazing atmosphere at a football game that I have ever witnessed. They are certainly the loudest and most self-absorbed group of supporters yet seen in Australia.

But a few of the choices the club and their supporters make are less than classy. Sending the Wandererers over to thank the travelling fans just as Brisbane were being presented with the Champions trophy was plain rude.

Brisbane farewells Besart Berisha with this winning performance. The Albanian was predictably in tears after the game, as he thanked the fans and the team and the city, thumping his fist on his chest over his heart. Perhaps it was because he knows it will never be like this again for him.

Hyundai A-League Grand Final

Brisbane Roar 2 (Besart BERISHA 86′, HENRIQUE 108′

Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Matthew SPIRANOVIC 56′)

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Kick-off: 4pm

Referee: Peter Green

Brisbane Roar: 1. Michael THEO (GK), 2. Matthew SMITH (C), 3. Shane STEFANUTTO, 5. Ivan FRANJIC, 7. Besart BERISHA, 11. Liam MILLER (8. Steven LUSTICA 74’), 13. Jade NORTH, 17. Matthew McKAY, 18. Luke BRATTAN (15. James DONACHIE 90’+1), 22. Thomas BROICH, 23. Dimitri PETRATOS (10. Henrique 69’)

Substitutes not used: 16. Jean Carlos SOLORZANO, 20. Matthew ACTON

Yellow cards: Nil

Red cards: Nil

Western Sydney Wanderers: 1. Ante COVIC (GK), 3. Adam D’Apuzzo, 3. Nikolai Topor-Stanley (C) (10. Aaron MOOY, 66’), 6. Jerome POLENZ, 8. Mateo POLJAK, 11. Brendan SANTALAB (9. Tomi JURIC 73’), 13. Matthew SPIRANOVIC, 17. Youssouf HERSI, 18. Iacopo LA ROCCA, 19. Mark BRIDGE, 21. Shinji ONO (7. Labinot HALITI, 83’)

Substitutes not used: 2. Shannon COLE, 20. Jerrad TYSON (GK)

Yellow cards: Brendan SANTALAB (25’), Adam D’APUZZO (39’), Youssouf HERSI (59’), Mateo POLJAK (102’), Jerome POLENZ (105’), Aaron MOOY (115’)

Red cards: Nil