GRAND FINAL Preview
This has all the makings of a classic - the powerhouse Brisbane Roar, against Perth Glory, a sleeping giant of Australian football .
Date: Sunday 22 April, 2012 Kick-off: 4.00pm AEST, 4.00pm local Venue: Suncorp Stadium
Head-to-head Played: 21 Wins: Brisbane 13, Perth 3, Draw: 5
Previous encounter Brisbane 3, Perth 0, 21 February 2012
History: The men in orange hold a commanding lead in the head-to-head stakes between these two sides.
Perth have only beaten the Roar on three occasions since the inception of the A-League, and none of those wins have come this season. In their first meeting in 2011/12, Brisbane completely destroyed the Western Australian side by 4-0, claiming the longest unbeaten streak in Australian sporting history in the process.
Then the two sides fought out a furious 3-3 draw a few days into the new year at nib Stadium, before the Roar returned to that ground two months later to claim a 3-0 win.
It's also worth noting Brisbane have not lost a finals match since February 2009, and Perth have won just once before at Suncorp Stadium. History favours the Roar but records are there to be broken.
Form: Past five matches: Brisbane: WWDWL Perth: LWWWW
Summary of form: The Roar's eight-match undefeated run across all competitions was broken when they were outclassed 2-1 by K-League side Ulsan Hyundai at home.
However - and more importantly - the Queensland side have not lost to an A-League team since Newcastle pulled off a 1-0 win back in late January.
Indeed, Brisbane have won eight and drawn two of their last 10 games against Australian (or New Zealand) clubs, a record which should fill them with confidence.
Perth themselves are on a terrific four-match winning streak which started when the Glory promptly dismantled Melbourne Victory in Jim Magilton's last match in charge, knocked Melbourne Heart and Wellington Phoenix out of the finals - and then last weekend, they beat premiers Central Coast on penalties to seal their passage to the big dance.
In total, the Glory have lost just 3 games from their last 18 and it's fair and true to say that Ian Ferguson's men are peaking at the right time.
Match Committee: Ange Postecoglou fielded his best XI against Ulsan Hyundai earlier in the week and there were no injury problems to come out of that match - so Brisbane will once again be at full-strength. Perth, on the other hand, have a few fitness concerns.
The biggest one surrounds livewire winger Andrezinho, who suffered a minor tear in his groin in the second half of his side's win over the Mariners.
The Brazilian will need to train successfully later this week in order to prove his fitness - but you can put a line through Evan Berger (hamstring), Chris Coyne (Achilles) and Viktor Sikora (hip).
Danger men: Thomas Broich - By his standards, Broich has been very quiet of late. That should mean alarm bells for Perth, because a player of his calibre does not stay quiet for long.
The German playmaker needs a decisive 90-minute (or, if it comes to it, 120-minute) performance in order to really ensure the Brisbane engine ticks along the right way.
Shane Smeltz - Perth's marquee striker has revelled in the spotlight of the finals series so far this season. The Kiwi has scored eight goals in his last four games, with his tally in post-season fixtures now at six, the second-most of any player in the history of the competition.
Smeltz earns his money because he is consistently capable of putting the finishing touches on Glory moves, and that role will be of immense importance in the Grand Final.
At the end of the day… Never mind the protests of Graham Arnold and the Central Coast Mariners - the Grand Final is the biggest stage in Australian football, and the prize on offer is what all clubs have been working towards for the past 12 months.
On paper, this has all the makings of a classic - an established powerhouse in Brisbane, having once again proved they're the best team in the land by cruising through the finals series, will welcome Perth Glory, a sleeping giant in domestic football terms that appears to have finally woken up.
There are intriguing battles all over the pitch. Which defensive pairing will hold tight - the Roar's captain courageous, Matt Smith, and Bahrani international Mohamed Adnan, or former Gold Coast United teammates Bas van den Brink and Steve Pantelidis?
Will Thomas Broich and Erik Paartalu control the tempo of the game, or will the Glory's Liam Miller and Jacob Burns confirm their rise as one of the A-League's best midfield combinations?
Which striker will be on song, Besart Berisha or Shane Smeltz? And if it comes down to it, who will hold their nerve between the posts - proven performer Michael Theoklitos or starlet Danny Vukovic?
On a larger scale, everything - history, form, home-ground advantage, experience, cohesion - points to a Brisbane victory. But then again, it would take a brave man to dismiss the combination of class Perth have mastered in their run to the decider.
If the wrong Roar turns up, they might not be able to handle it.