Wanderers, Mariners ready for A-League final
Western Sydney Wanderers goalkeeper Ante Covic will feel confident if Sunday's A-League grand final against Central Coast is decided on penalties: He has saved all four he's faced this season, including one against former Juventus striker Alessandro Del Piero.
To make things more daunting for the Mariners, they go into the sold-out match at the 45,000-seat Sydney Football Stadium having missed five in a row from the spot at one point this season, including two in the Asian Champions League.
Covic says that with not much separating the two sides who finished first and second in the regular season, he won't be surprised if the match comes down to penalties.
''It's going to be a game that's probably limited in chances,'' Covic said. ''I think we nullify each other in certain areas.
''I hope we do the job within 90 minutes, but if it does go that way I go into the penalties with the belief that the striker is the one under pressure. He's the one that's expected to score.''
The Mariners have a young but impressive keeper in Mat Ryan, and their striker Daniel McBreen has scored 18 goals this season.
But McBreen started Central Coast's misfiring run on penalties, missing two in row before Nick Montgomery, Ryan and Michael McGlinchey also failed from the spot.
McBreen, who finally scored on a penalty against the Melbourne Heart in round 27, knows about the Mariners' poor record on spot kicks.
They lost the grand final to Brisbane two years ago on penalties and bowed out in similar fashion last year, losing a shootout to Perth Glory in the semifinals.
McBreen says he's not daunted by his team's past failures in that category.
''I'll take all five if you want,'' McBreen said. ''Hopefully it won't get there, but we're all confident.''
The Mariners, unlike the Wanderers coached by Tony Popovic, will be trying to overcome three previous grand final losses to win their first title.
The team, based a few hours' drive north of Sydney at Gosford on the Central Coast, has no marquee player to counter Shinji Ono, the Wanderers' former Japanese international who has been a team leader.
The Mariners also work off the A-League's smallest salary, with some eight players on the minimum wage. There have also been financial problems this season that saw the players not paid on time on several occasions.
Ryan believes the hard times have made coach Graham Arnold's team tougher.
''Every club has hiccups, and we are fortunate to be on the other side of it now,'' said Ryan, who comes off contract next month and is reported to be looking for a team in Europe next season.
''The camaraderie here is probably the utmost factor in our success. Whatever has come our way, we have dealt with it as a team.''
Western Sydney captain Michael Beauchamp sees a Hollywood scenario with his first-year team.
''It's something you only hear about in movies,'' said the star defender. ''Being from the western part of Sydney, it's something I would always be proud of.''
The final will conclude a resurgent A-League season which saw average attendance increase among the 10 teams and a boost in television ratings, thanks mainly to Del Piero's decision to play for Sydney FC and the signing of former England international Emile Heskey with Newcastle Jets.
Sydney missed out on a playoff spot on goal difference with Perth, finishing seventh, while Newcastle was a point behind in eighth. Del Piero, Heskey and Ono will all return next season.