By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Sydney FC will bid for an unprecedented hat-trick of successive Australian titles, and a record-extending sixth in all, in the A-League Grand Final on Sunday with Melbourne City in their path to glory for a second season in a row.
City have home advantage having topped the regular season standings to win the Premiers’ Plate and will welcome a COVID-19-controlled crowd of 15,000 to the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium as they bid for a maiden A-League title.
Both teams are without three internationals who are still in quarantine after travelling to the Arabian Gulf with the Socceroos, and both have injury concerns over key players.
Serbia midfielder Milos Ninkovic, the creative heart of a Sydney team that has won three titles in four seasons, missed last week’s 2-1 semi-final win over Adelaide United with a calf strain.
Already without Jamie Maclaren, who has scored 25 league goals this season but is one of the Socceroos still in quarantine, City are sweating on the fitness of attackers Craig Noone and Andrew Nabbout.
Young gun forwards Stefan Colakovski and Marco Tilio showed they could step up to the plate in last week’s semi-final win over Macarthur, however, setting up goals for each other a minute apart to secure the 2-0 win.
While Sydney have the pedigree — Sunday will be the club’s seventh Grand Final in 16 A-League campaigns — City have been the standout team of the season on the back of an exciting brand of attacking football.
Ninth after six matches, City put together a run of six straight wins — including a 3-2 victory over Sydney and a 6-0 humiliation of neighbours Melbourne Victory — to storm back to the top of the table.
With Sydney having won three Grand Finals after a penalty shootouts, and last year’s title decider in extra time, City would be wise to try to get the job done inside 90 minutes if they can.
“It’s a Grand Final and they are always very close affairs,” Sydney coach Steve Corica, who scored the winning goal for the club in the inaugural final in 2006, said this week.
“We can use our experience, but we need to be focused, we need to have discipline and we need to play to our strengths. Our boys know what is at stake and we are looking to create history for this club.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)