We often build up Cup Final matches for weeks in anticipation of great soccer, only for the actual match to fall flat. Teams are afraid to surrender goals, players cannot handle the pressure or any multitude of things lead to a dour and sloppy match. The match still holds importance and is dissected every which way because the winner gets a trophy at the end and that alone is worth some sort of merit, but the match itself isn't anything to write home about. The A-League Grand Final between the Brisbane Roar and Gold Coast Mariners bucked any sort of boring final storyline though with one of the best matches one could hope to see that could only be described as the epitome of soccer drama.
Brisbane entered their maiden Grand Final having lost just once in the 30-match season with both the most goals scored in the league and fewest allowed. Gold Coast was no slouch either, finishing in second place, but there was a large gap between Brisbane and the rest of the league and Gold Coast was the rest of the league. Add that the match was being played in front of over 50,000 at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium and you had a recipe for an easy Brisbane coronation.
For 90 minutes, Brisbane was the better team, but not by a wide margin. Gold Coast had their share of chances, but like Brisbane, the Marine were undone by heroic goalkeeper and near-misses. The Roar pressed on with the backing of their adoring orange clad supporters in full voice, but they couldn't find a winner so the match went to extra time without either team having written themselves into the A-League history books with a goal.
It took only a minute of extra time for the Mariners to put their stamp on the added period. Twice Gold Coast pushed on only to be denied by spectacular goalkeeping, but the visitors finally for the first goal of the match in the 96th minute when Adam Kwasnik struck. They added to that lead in the 103rd minute when Oliver Bozanik tapped one in on the back end of a wild scramble and it looked as if the Mariners were going to win the A-League title.
As the Grand Final went to the second 15 minute half of extra time, most assumed that Gold Coast would only have to see out the rest of the match before collecting their trophy, but a 117th minute goal for Brisbane by Henrique put the match back into the balance. Three minutes later, the Roar did the unthinkable and sent Suncorp Stadium into raptures with an equalizer when Erik Paartalu nodded home a corner kick that forced penalty kicks.
In penalty kicks, the Roar had no issues making all four of their kicks and they got some heroics from Michael Theoklitos to bring home the trophy. The Brisbane keeper made two tremendous saves to deny Gold Coast and finish off a mind-boggling comeback in a thrilling final.
Nobody would confuse the A-League for the English Premier League, La Liga, the German Bundesliga or even the Dutch Eredivisie. The six-year-old A-League doesn't even compare with Major League Soccer. There isn't a person who isn't amazed by the breathtaking skill of Lionel Messi, the incredible finishing of Edinson Cavani or any number of things many of the world's best players do that give soccer its nickname of "The Beautiful Game." The A-League has very little of that type of brilliance, but that didn't keep the league from turning in an incredible final.
The effort and intensity of the Grand Final was second to none and the trophy awaiting the winner gave it all the drama it needed. The partisan crowd of more than 50,000 added to the intensity of the match and the heavy favorite versus the underdog gave the match an easy storyline, even if Goliath did beat David.
The Grand Final had tremendous tackles, fantastic saves, cringe-inducing near misses and 30 minutes of free soccer plus penalty kicks. Weather even played a part in the match as about 25 minutes of it was played in what appeared to be near monsoon-like conditions as a torrential downpour struck Brisbane in the early part of the second half. Anything that could have added to the drama did on an Australian Sunday afternoon.
Fittingly, two saves at full stretch in the knee buckling penalty kicks decided the match and gave the home crowd the chance to celebrate. Only the most devoted of soccer fans could have named a single player from either team and nobody would confuse either club for Barcelona or Manchester United. Even so, it's unlikely that any UEFA Champions League, Copa America or league match in 2011 will match the drama of the A-League Grand Final that was a memorable 120+ minutes for all that watched except for the 2,000 Gold Coast fans left in heartbroken tears.