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Manton St Tales

Underdog United can still bare its fangs

Manton St Tales

Adelaide United face a monumental challenge against Sydney tomorrow night, but the Reds don’t have to look far for inspiration, writes Spiro Karanikos-Mimis.

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Two seasons ago, Adelaide United was in this exact same position: an away semi-final against a more fancied opponent.

On that night Adelaide was one successful penalty kick away from a Grand Final, but stumbled.

There are five players from that epic contest that will likely be in the squad for tomorrow night’s game, and it would have been six if Craig Goodwin was available. I’m certain their message to teammates will be: anything is possible.

It was only a few weeks ago that Sydney FC ran riot at Hindmarsh, leaving with three points after a comprehensive four-one win.

Make no mistake – United was smashed by The Bling from start to finish. The score flattered the Reds, who could have and probably should have, lost by more.

That demolition must loom large in the memory of several Reds players and it’s incumbent on those who played against Perth a few years ago to get their teammates in a the right frame of mind.

Being mentally prepared for Saturday’s game is vital. Why? Because Adelaide faces the biggest task in Australian football: beating Sydney on its home deck in a final.

A task made more difficult by the fact that Sydney has a plethora of stars, even considering that three key players are missing due to national team commitments. Keep Bobô quiet and up steps Le Fondre or Barbarouses. Nullify Ninković’s playmaking ability and you still have to worry about Brattan, Caceras or Baumjohann.

And don’t forget that Sydney had the best defence in the regular season, conceding a miserly 23 goals in 26 matches.

The Reds must be on their game from start to finish.

One thing that has frustrated fans this season is United’s inconsistency – and not just from one match to the next, but often during games.

In Sunday’s win against the Roar, Adelaide played well for 30 minutes before losing their way and spending the rest of the game holding off the Roar. It wasn’t the first Jekyll and Hyde performance of the year.

I have said it before: when Adelaide is on, they’re capable of beating anyone but when they’re not, they can serve up garbage.

It will prove a difficult night if the Reds don’t perform in Sydney. The Sky Blue will punish teams that aren’t on their game and what awaits Adelaide is nearly mission impossible.

Consider this:

But if there is one thing we’ve learnt from Adelaide over the last four or five years, is that they excel in cup football and the race for the A-League Championship is exactly that – cup football.

We just like to give it a fancy name and call it ‘finals’, because Australian sports culture demands it.

(We aren’t the only competition that does this. For example, in the United States if you make the play-offs you then compete for the MLS Cup. The team with the best regular season record wins the Supporter’s Shield.)

United has shown that it is very efficient and proficient when it comes to playing cup games.

And if the Reds need an inspirational underdog story to stoke the fire, they don’t have to look very far at all. Metro United came from nowhere to win the SA Women’s National Premier League Championship in 2020. They finished fourth during the regular season (which is the last available finals spot) and were expected to bow out immediately.

Instead, they beat third placed West Adelaide, then second placed Salisbury Inter before beating Premiers Adelaide City in the Grand Final.

Metro United did the unthinkable by sticking to their game plan (it was ugly at times, but no one remembers that now) and believing that they weren’t there just to make up the numbers.

So while it may seem that Adelaide’s task is nigh on impossible against Sydney FC, football is a funny game at times. Anything is possible.

The A-League semi-finals require a winner. If needed, the games will utilise extra-time (30 minutes) and penalties to decide a grand-finalist.

If Adelaide United lose, it will be eliminated and its season will end.

If United win and Melbourne City win, Adelaide will play Melbourne City in the A-League Grand Final. Victoria will be the host city, though depending on COVID-19 restrictions, the game could potentially be played elsewhere.

…and Macarthur win: Adelaide will play Macarthur in the A-League Grand Final. South Australia will be the host city as the Reds will have qualified as the higher ranked team.

Spiro Karanikos-Mimis is InDaily’s soccer columnist.

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