Brisbane Roar have completed the greatest comeback in Hyundai A-League history to claim their maiden championship in a drama-filled encounter in front of a full and vocal Suncorp Stadium crowd.
Central Coast Mariners looked to have the victory in the bag after two goals in the first half of extra time but two goals in the match-s final three minutes sent the encounter into a tense penalty shootout.
From there, Brisbane never looked back and converted four successful penalties as ‘keeper Michael Theoklitos etched his name into Australian football folklore with two stunning saves.
The Grand Final win has extended Brisbane-s unbeaten run to 28 games and has secured this year-s Hyundai A-League premiership and championship double, a perfect way to end what has been an extraordinary year for Ange Postecoglou and his squad.
The Mariners had two early sniffs at goal with Central Coast-s Adam Kwasnik heading just wide in the seventh minute before a goal line clearance from Brisbane skipper Matt McKay on the quarter hour mark kept the opposition from snatching a crucial lead.
A moment later, sublime footwork from playmaker Thomas Broich released McKay inside the six yard box but his cheeky effort was quickly deflected out by a Mariners defender.
Broich was proving to be a powerful outlet down Brisbane-s right flank and even more clinical over the dead ball.
The vocal crowd thought they had their opening goal after 25 minutes but Milan Susak-s connection with the German-s pinpoint cross flew wide of the far post.
Kwasnik tried his luck from long range after picking Brisbane custodian Michael Theoklitos off his line before Mitch Nichols struggled to get the vital last touch from a floated cross – the two sides producing end-to-end football fitting of the occasion.
In the 34th minute, the best chance of the first half fell to Nichols when young Mariners keeper Matt Ryan failed to deal with another one of Broich-s corners, the midfielder-s well-timed volley rocketing off the crossbar much to the dismay of the Brisbane faithful.
Despite numerous chances falling to the Roar, the Mariners defence was difficult to break down and the teams headed into the changing rooms at half time scoreless.
The beginning of the second stanza saw the heavens open up and torrential rain fall upon the Suncorp Stadium pitch but the weather conditions did little to hamper Brisbane-s attacking intent.
Brazilian livewire Henrique and midfield workhorse Massimo Murdocca were introduced into the game at the expense of young pair Kosta Barbarouses and Mitch Nichols with Brisbane Roar coach Ange Postecoglou looking to inject new life into the match as the full time whistle drew closer.
In the first minute of stoppage time, Jean Carlos Solorzano had a golden chance to secure the championship for Brisbane when he found himself in clear sight of goal with just the Coast custodian to beat, however Ryan stood tall to deny the Costa Rican striker.
After a goalless 90 minutes, the game moved into extra time and it was the away side that almost seized the advantage after substitute Bernie Ibini-Isei latched onto a pass from the midfield, driving a powerful strike goal wards and forcing a reactive save from Theoklitos.
Two impressive saves in quick succession from the Brisbane goalkeeper from the following Mariners attack kept Brisbane in the game but Theoklitos could do little to deny Kwasnik moments later.
A flurry of headers inside the box saw the ball fall to the feet of the prolific striker, who had the easiest of touches to give the Mariners a 1-0 lead, sending the healthy contingent of travelling supporters- into raptures.
McKay almost replied instantly with a left-footed strike that sailed too high of the crossbar but boosted by their goal, the Central Coast side continued their momentum and they soon had their second on the night, courtesy of Oliver Bozanic.
Another forceful save from Theoklitos at the edge of the box meant the goal was unattended when the rebound found its way to the Mariners midfielder, whose slick shot broke the hearts of the majority of the 50,168-strong crowd.
With just four minutes remaining in extra time, Henrique gave his side a glimmer of hope with a characteristically well-taken goal inside the area and that was all Brisbane needed to kick back into gear.
A final attack saw the Roar win a corner and with the deafening cheers around the stadium, towering midfielder Erik Paartalu was quick to nod down the corner to bring the scores to 2-2 at the end of 120 minutes.
It came down to penalties and although the Mariners started brightly, Hutchinson and Wilkinson both scoring from the spot, two misses proved costly as Franjic, Paartalu and McKay all coolly converted their own penalties.
Two world class saves from Theoklitos meant the final kick of the game fell to Henrique and the zippy winger made no mistakes from the spot to give Brisbane Roar this year-s Hyundai A-League double.
Post-match, Head Coach Ange Postecoglou was overjoyed and heaped praise on the unbelievable character shown by his side during the game.
“At one stage, we looked down and out but while I was sitting there, I was filing through my mind the amount of times that we had found something this year and I thought it wouldn-t really surprise me if this group of players found what they needed,” he said.
“We-ve had an absolutely extraordinary season and I should-ve expected an extraordinary finish.”
Brisbane Roar 2 (HENRIQUE 117-, Erik PAARTALU 120-)
Central Coast Mariners 2 (Adam KWASNIK 96-, Oliver BOZANIC 102-)
Brisbane Roar 4 (Ivan FRANJIC, Erik PAARTALU, Matt McKAY, HENRIQUE)
Central Coast Mariners 2 (John HUTCHINSON, Alex WILKINSON)
Sunday, 13 March 2011
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee: Matthew Breeze
Brisbane Roar line-up: 1. Michael THEOKLITOS (gk), 2. Matt 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. Mitch NICHOLS (8. Massimo MURDOCCA 82-), 22. Thomas BROICH, 23. Milan SUSAK (14. Rocky VISCONTE 101-)
Substitutes not used:12. Matt MUNDY, 20. Andrew REDMAYNE (gk)
Yellow cards: Nil
Central Coast Mariners: 3. Joshua ROSE, 4. Pedj BOJIC, 6. Patrick ZWAANSWIJK, 8. Rostyn GRIFFITHS (24. Bernie IBINI-ISEI 89-), 11. Oliver 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
Substitutes not used: 7. John HUTCHINSON, 17. Chris DOIG, 30. Paul HENDERSON (gk)
Yellow cards: Nil
Red cards: Nil