Perth seek Glory in A-L final for the ages

Perth striker Brendon Santalab, an Asian Champions League winner and cult A-League hero. Picture: AAP
Perth striker Brendon Santalab, an Asian Champions League winner and cult A-League hero. Picture: AAP

THE stage is set for today’s blockbuster A-League decider, when Perth host Sydney FC at Optus Stadium in what might be Australian football’s biggest grand final.

And there’s no shortage of storylines to suggest the match will be anything less than a show-stopper.

Will the Glory win their first championship of the A-League era, sparking a party in Perth unseen since their halcyon National Soccer League days?

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Perth Glory players. Picture: AAP Image/Travis Anderson

Or will Sydney FC claim another title, taking them level with Melbourne Victory and NSL-era powerhouses Sydney City, Marconi and South Melbourne with four Australian championships?

The individual stories of many of the competitors are compelling.

Sydney FC captain and prodigal son Alex Brosque will take the field on Sunday for the last time, the Socceroo retiring at age 35 after a stunning career.

Perth striker Brendon Santalab, an Asian Champions League winner and cult A-League hero, will also call time after heading west for one final season.

He was lured west by Tony Popovic, who re-started his coaching career in stunning style with the Glory.

The Western Sydney foundation coach, having left Australia last year for an ill-fated stint in Turkey, has recharged the A-League’s least-successful foundation club.

Glory coach Tony Popovic. Picture: AAP Image/Tony McDonough

Popovic is out for redemption; he won another premiership this year but is yet to salute in three grand finals as head coach, losing three deciders with the Wanderers.

In the opposing technical area is Steve Corica, also in his first season as Sydney FC’s head coach.

He has kept Graham Arnold’s serial winners on the straight and narrow, finishing second after two first-placed finishes in seasons past.

A 6-1 walloping of Melbourne Victory last weekend was a record win for the club. He admits they are still fuelled by revenge after failing to win the championship last season.

“That motivation is definitely there,” he said on Saturday.

“It was a bit of a revenge with the Melbourne side and this is a different kettle of fish.

“It’s a big occasion, we got to the grand final but we’re not here to come and lose. We’re coming to win.”

Despite their superb dispatching of Victory, Sydney FC are outsiders, travelling west to face a cauldron of purple.

More than 53,000 tickets have been sold, mostly to Glory fans.

“It sounds fantastic,” Corica said.

“What more do you want? It’s a grand final against all odds.

“No one expects us to come here and win. That’s the motivation for our boys.

“They know they can win.

“The boys are going to be fired up like they should be and we want to send (Brosque) off on a winning note.”

Popovic was talking tough on match eve, saying predictions were irrelevant and what was important was performance.

“We’re prepared. We’re ready,” he said.

“We will have fantastic support behind us.

“We’ve played very well all year. We deserve to be here. We’ve been the best team and, tomorrow, we have an opportunity to top it off with a grand final win.”