New boys Wanderers on track for grand finish
Just 10 months after their formation, Western Sydney are on the brink of glory
Just 10 months after they were formed, Western Sydney Wanderers and their star signing Shinji Ono can cap a fairytale debut season tomorrow when they play Central Coast Mariners in Australia's A-League final.
The Wanderers lifted the Premier's Plate as the top team after 27 regular rounds last month, but under the Australian system the champions are the ones who win the grand final.
The newcomers, from one of the traditional heartlands of Australian soccer and coached by former international defender Tony Popovic, have had a stunning impact in their first season, winning 19 games and going the last 13 unbeaten.
And the chanting army of the Wanderers' Red and Black Bloc fans are expected to come close to the Sydney Football Stadium's first-ever 45,500 sell-out.
Western Sydney, embracing a sprawling urban region of two million that has spawned Australian greats including Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer and Mark Bosnich, have blossomed under the coaching of Popovic, another local product.
Six weeks before the start of their first season, the Wanderers had six contracted players, and nine at their first training session.
Popovic, who came from Crystal Palace to take on the job, moulded them into a championship-contending team drawn from cast-offs at other A-League clubs and some shrewdly recruited talent from overseas, including Japan's Ono.
Ono, 33, who played for Japan 56 times and appeared in three World Cups, has been a rousing success with eight goals, including an exquisite chipped effort last week that put his team into the season decider.
A veteran of the Bundesliga, Eredivisie and J.League, Ono describes Popovic as the best coach he has ever had, putting him above current Socceroos boss Holger Osieck, his mentor at Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds.
In their three games this season it is one win each and one draw, and the Mariners are determined to finally win the trophy after losing all three of their grand finals in 2011, 2008 and 2006.
"People talk about the past three grand final but we can't do anything about them," said Mariners coach Graham Arnold, a former boss of the Socceroos.
"We are fresh and motivated and, as long as we execute our game plan, we will be fine."