The stage was perfectly set. A record crowd of more than 56,371 packed inside one of Australia's most modern stadiums. The A-League's two best teams in the country, at full strength and ready to go. A beautiful afternoon in the west. Of course something had to go wrong.
For the second grand final in a row, the VAR provided the major talking point. Last season, it was a hardware malfunction which saw a goal from Melbourne Victory winger Kosta Barbarouses stand when it should have been given offside.
Sydney FC fans react during the grand final in Perth.Credit:AAP
On Sunday night, an own goal to Matthew Spiranovic was disallowed for offside when it should have been given. Alex Brosque, in what is likely to be his final appearance for Sydney FC, started the move in the 28th minute, turning this way and that to make space before laying off a pass to an overlapping Michael Zullo.
Zullo used his trusty left foot to thump the ball across the six-yard box, where Adam Le Fondre was waiting. Before the Englishman could get to it, though, Spiranovic did, inadvertently sending it past goalkeeper Liam Reddy and into the back of the net.
Just as Le Fondre wheeled away to celebrate, the assistant referee put his flag up. Offside, apparently – but the replays shown on Fox Sports clearly showed Spiranovic's foot was keeping Zullo onside.
Everyone waited for the VAR to do its job and overturn an clearly incorrect decision – but the men back in the Redfern bunker stayed out of it, reportedly because the call was so tight it did not constitute a clear or obvious error.
How? Why? Sydney FC coach Steve Corica saw the same thing and asked himself the same questions, his sideline protests earning him a yellow card. The Twittersphere blew up in unison – it's a disgrace, a farce, a blight on the game.
It didn't ruin the match itself – in the end, the Sky Blues won, although a goal midway through the first half would have changed the contest dramatically. The Glory would have had to have thrown more caution to the wind in pursuit of an equaliser. Everything would have opened up and maybe fans would have been spared what was ultimately 120 minutes of tense, tight but rarely dramatic football.
Justice prevailed in the penalty shootout, but justice delayed is still justice denied to some. The goal that wasn't was the only real flashpoint from what proved a rather anti-climactic A-League grand final and perhaps emblematic of a season which left plenty to be desired.
Maybe John Safran managed to get that Mozambican witch doctor's curse lifted on the Socceroos all those years ago, but it still feels like the domestic game itself is constantly battling some form of exotic voodoo. At moments when the A-League should be presenting its best face, something somehow always gets in the way.
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