Finally it’s Melbourne Croatia’s turn

Melbourne Croatia, who have never won the National Soccer League championship, are warm favourites to make history in tomorrow’s grand final against Adelaide City at Olympic Park.

With the benefit of home advantage and the motivation to avenge their loss in last year’s grand final at the same ground, Melbourne Croatiahave incentive to go with their superiority in depth and quality.

While the quandary for coach Ken Murphy is who to omit from his multi-talented squad, his Adelaide City counterpart, Zoran Matic, has little option but to persevere with the same 13 players who have defied the odds to reach the title-decider.

The key issue for Murphy is whether to recall veterans Paul Donnelly and Branko Milosevic to his starting XI, probably at the expense of youngster Damien Mori and import Vlado Vanis. Both Donnelly and Milosevic were regular members of the side until they were injured last season, and is well aware of their big-match capabilities.

The former Socceroo midfielder, in his first season as an NSL coach, is also considering the claims of young striker Ollie Pondlejak, who may be asked to replace the out-of-form Ivan Kelic and partner Francis Awaritefe in attack

Murphy has the support of veteran utility player Alan Davidson, who starts a new career next week with Pahang in Malaysia. Davidson, who took last season’s grand final loss hard, believes Murphy has handled his first NSL coaching job just right-by doing hardly anything.

“It’s the same team as last year, playing the same way and with the same players virtually running it,” Davidson said. “There was no need to change anything. This team virtually runs itself, all the coach needs to do is keep morale up and make the training sessions enjoyable. Kenny realised that, and hasn’t tried to do too much. It’s worked.”

Adelaide City will be trying to become the first side in NSL history to win the League and Cup double. The Zebras have battled through three sudden-death semi-finals to get this far, largely on the basis of their excellent defence and the predatory instincts of in-form forward Carl Veart.

Matic makes no apologies for the negative, counter-attacking game employed by his side-and on the basis of their recent results these tactics have been vindicated. Veart, who is slowly regaining full fitness after knee and ankle problems, has been the key to this success, scoring in each of the three semi-finals.

To date, the efficient Adelaide City backline has been able to cope with the pressure, and tomorrow should be no different. Sweeper Milan Ivanovic and stopper Alex Tobin have been in superb form during the finals series, as has goalkeeper Robert Zabica, particularly in his handling of crosses.

To penetrate this formidable defensive wall, Melbourne Croatia will again be relying on the skills of Josip Biskic, the direct approach of Damien Mori and Francis Awaritefe, and perhaps some success at set pieces, particularly from corners.

The indications point to a low-scoring match, but both sides will want to avoid having the game decided by a penalty shoot-out.

The wild card for Adelaide City may be the selection of veteran Sergio Melta, who is desperate to make his comeback from injury tomorrow.

Likely teams:

MELBOURNE CROATIA: Miller; Donnelly, Vanis, Hannah, Selemides, Talajic; Biskic (c), Davidson, Marth; Pondlejak, Awaritefe.

ADELAIDE CITY: Zabica; Shillabeer, Tobin (c), Ivanovic, Vidmar; Tapai, Melta, Mullen, Aloisi; Maxwell, Veart.

The grand final will be telecast live by SBS, starting at 2 pm, with a full replay 10.40 pm.

Michael Cockerill
Sydney Morning Herald

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