IS Brisbane Roar the greatest team in the history of the A-League?
That will be the question on the lips of football fans and pundits alike after the Roar came back from two goals down to claim a remarkable grand final victory over the Central Coast Mariners.
Dead and buried after a brace of extra-time goals from Adam Kwasnik and Oliver Bozanic, many Brisbane fans threw the towel in and condemned the Roar to its grave.
But with only minutes left in the game, the Roar’s Henrique and Erik Paartalu miraculously pulled the hosts into an unlikely penalty shoot-out where Michael Theoklitos sent the 50,168 Suncorp Stadium faithful into rapture with a pair of match-winning saves.
It was an extraordinary grandstand finish which befitted a club that has had a ‘pretty memorable season’.
“(The game) was one of those … were we looked down and out,” Roar coach Ange Postecoglou said.
“But while I was sitting there, I was filing through my mind the amount of times we found something this year and I just thought it wouldn’t surprise me if this group of players found what they needed.
“We’ve had an absolutely extraordinary season and I should have expected an extraordinary finish.”
The minor premier’s maiden championship completes an A-League double and amazingly, extends the club’s unbeaten stretch to 28 games.
But for the Mariners it’s a sickening treble of grand final defeats, losing previously to Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets before watching this year’s decider slip through its fingers.
Mariners’ coach Graham Arnold said he was ‘hugely disappointed’ for his players, describing the final minutes of extra time as a blow his side could not recover from.
“We talked about it before the game, you switch off at any time against (the Roar) they’ll get you,” he said.
“You try to pick (the players) up, but it’s so difficult after you concede a goal with the last kick of the game in extra time.
“You say ‘c’mon there is another chance, a penalty shoot-out’.
“(But) the players, their emotions were flat … because of conceding they way it was.
“We worked so hard and deserved to be rewarded better, but it’s football.”
The pace was frenetic in the first half with neither team backing away from their natural attacking instincts.
Central Coast controlled the early running and would have taken the lead but for a well positioned Matt MacKay who cleared the danger.
The Roar captain nearly turned goal-scorer moments later but goalkeeper Mathew Ryan and Patrick Zwaanswijk combined to keep the score-line blank.
Kosta Barbarouses almost finished off a move he started on the half-way line before Milan Susak’s powerful header nearly provided the goal the first-half deserved.
The Mariners have yet to beat the Roar in five attempts this season and Kwasnik tried the unthinkable to halt that run, trying an audacious chip from 40 metres out.
Mariners’ striker Simon should have given the visitors the lead late in the half, but he screwed his shot wide from dead in front.
Torrential rain greeted the players at the start of the second half but both sides refused to dampen the game’s attacking intensity.
Jean Carlos Solorzano blasted straight at Ryan, while the Mariners’ forward line loaded up from long distance.
The home side was beginning to ramp up the pressure on the Mariners’ defence with Franjic, McKay and Paartalu all coming close to unlocking the stalemate.
But with both sides valiantly searching for the match winning goal, the play began to stem its flood of chances and excitement.
Both coaches introduced fresh attacking impetus in the forms of Daniel McBreen and Henrique, but the changes did little to spark a new wave of goal-mouth creativity.
Clear cut chances were beginning to diminish and so was regulation time, but with little left in the tank for both sides, extra time was needed to separate the league’s top two teams.
Roar fans’ hearts were in their mouths when play resumed as young Bernie Ibini-Isei broke through clear on goal, but A-League goalkeeper of the year Theoklitos made the save.
However, the Roar failed to heed the warning and moments later Pedj Bojic and Ibini-Isei combined to setup Adam Kwasnik with the easiest of finishes.
The Roar needed a goal and streamed forward in search of its grand final salvation, but instead, its doom was seemingly sealed when Oliver Bozanic scored his second goal in successive matches against the Roar.
Claiming the ball in the middle of the park, Ibini-Isei threaded the ball through to Kwasnik who put it on a plate for Bozanic after Theoklitos saved the striker’s opening shot.
But the script still had a dramatic twist and the impossible was made possible in an amazing, mad final three minutes which will live long in Roar folklore.
Substitute Henrique was the first hero for the Roar, creating what none of his team-mates couldn’t for 117 minutes – a goal.
And the match somehow found its way to penalties when, in the dying seconds, Paartalu rose highest to slam home a Thomas Broich corner.
And the amazing comeback was complete when Theoklitos pulled off two crucial saves, leaving Henrique to complete a 4-2 shootout win.
After a long campaign, a 28-match unbeaten run and now a minor premiership and championship double, Postecoglou said the club was standing on the threshold of a football dynasty.
“I like to think we are building some strong foundations for the future,” he said.
“Certainly our intentions were never to be a flash in the pan, we have to back it up.
“Our job is to make sure we do that.”
Brisbane Roar 2 (Kwasnik 96’, Bozanic 103’)
Central Coast Mariners 2 (Henrique 117’, Paartalu 120’)
Brisbane Roar: 4 (Franjic, Paartalu, McKay, Henrique)
Central Coast Mariners: 2 (Hutchinson, Wilkinson)
Brisbane Roar: 1. Michael Theoklitos (gk), 2. Matthew Smith, 4. Shane Stefanutto, 5. Ivan Franjic, 6. Erik Paartalu, 7. Kosta Barbarouses (10. Henrique 71’), 9. Jean Carlos Solorzano, 15. Matt McKay (c), 17. Mitchell Nichols (8. Massimo Murdocca 82’), 22. Thomas Broich, 23. Milan Susak (14. Rocco Visconte 102’)
Unused substitutes: 12. Matthew Mundy, 20. Andrew Redmayne (gk).
Central Coast Mariners: 3. Joshua Rose, 4. Pedj Bojic, 6. Patrick Zwaanswijk, 8. Rostyn Griffiths (24. Bernie Ibini-Isei 89’), 11. Olive Bozanic, 14. Michael McGlinchey, 18. Alex Wilkinson (c), 19. Matt Simon (2. Daniel McBreen 72’), 20. Mathew Ryan (gk), 22. Mustafa Amini (7. John Hutchinson 60’), 23. Adam Kwasnik
Unused substitutes: 16. Trent Sainsbury, Paul Henderson (gk)
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