Semi-final showdown

What a great spectacle at Kogarah, as Sydney FC battled the elements and Adelaide United to secure their place in the A-League grand final on Saturday. On a day that put off many from attending, Sydney mastered the conditions and overcame a penalty miss and lots of injury time to win a difficult game.

Fresh from a wet and windy Over 35s game, it was an early start from Meadowbank, calling in at Melrose Park to get Mark and West Ryde to pick up Michelle, destination the Kogarah Clubhouse. We jagged a rock star car park just outside and ventured in, plenty of familiar faces from the Cove, and we were joined by Steve and Mario. Tickets on sale for a raffle to win a signed Sydney FC shirt for both the A League and W League teams, it would have been rude not to throw in a few dollars, all in aid of a bigger and better Cove experience. Pablo was spotted in his retro AUFC shirt, enjoying a proper pre-match atmosphere, and there was loads of sky blue.

Well fed and watered, I took Aurelia down to meet up with Rossco and the rest of the ball crew at the main gate. Unusually, there was a good crowd waiting for the gates to open, and the merch stall was in full swing. Signs then of a healthy crowd tonight, and it was still an hour and a half before kick off.

Back to the Clubhouse to finish off drinks and pick up the raffle winnings (aye, right) it was time to leave and join the march back to Kogarah Oval. The police escort and the singing and cheering in the dark streets around the stadium had a magical feel.

We were in the stadium earlier than normal, plenty of time to find a spot next to the Cove and meet up with some more good folk ahead of what promised to be an absorbing evening of football.

It was clear that the conditions would play their part this evening. Aurelia was decked out in warm ball crew gear and the wind started howling towards the Cove. Conjecture about which way Sydney would choose to shoot in the first half if they won the toss, and it was unanimous that they should shoot into the wind in the first half.

The pre-match sprinklers went on to douse everyone within 50 metres with water, very little ending up on the field, such was the ferocity of the wind. One unfortunate cameraman capturing the Cove was in direct line of fire.

It was clear that Sydney FC had put a little extra effort into their pre-match for this one. The funky beats of the drumming DJs had everyone up and dancing, the A-League wrap on the big screen was excellent, showing all the great goals we’ve seen this season, and there was something a little special at the Cove, with safe smokies going off as the players emerged and the Cove belted out “We are Sydney…”

The biological warfare that unfolded was comical, fans choking as they sung their anthem, enveloped in blue smoke as the wind pushed the ‘safe’ smoke straight down their throats. It did add atmosphere though, although it was very difficult to hear anything with the gale taking any chants up and behind. It was hard to hear the megaphones even and the wind was really testing the roots of the massive trees out the back of the oval.

The scene was set then, and Sydney had obviously lost the toss and were turned around, shooting towards the Cove for the first half and with the wind. Adelaide had a decent turn out up at the Ice Cream Van end. The game got underway with Adelaide having some early pressure. A close call up the right saw serial muppet Ryan Strain clip the bar. He then decided to rile up the crowd with some histrionics after a foul and didn’t cover himself with glory. Sydney were looking the goods after initially struggling to find range with their passes, Kosta Barbarouses was busy down the right and Adam Le Fondre looked lively. It was Barbarouses who almost danced through the whole defence, deciding against a left foot strike and the chance disappeared. Alex Baumjohann was having a fine game, involved in everything, and showing Luke Brattan how to cross the ball with the wind, almost unlocking the defence.

The first goal came courtesy of a clever passage of play with Retre down the right, the through ball to Le Fondre saw the Adelaide keeper commit, and he brought down the Sydney number 99 right in front of the Cove, a clear and obvious penalty. Not so said the referee crew, and only the intervention of Sydney’s twelfth man, VAR, saw the decision overruled and the penalty awarded. To be fair, we had a great view of it, the referees probably couldn’t see what we saw. Le Fondre stepped up and easily placed the shot inside the post for 1-0. It was a matter of seeing how many Sydney could score in the first half to get a buffer for a difficult second half. Michelle had seen enough and ‘did a Carla’, disappearing to the bathroom to entice a goal. And what a goal it was, just before half time. A long ball out left to Joel King, a perfectly cushioned ball in and a striker’s finish from Bobo to ignite the crowd again. “Always believe in Bobo” rang around the ground for a good few minutes after that.

Half time, and time to reflect on how many goals we should have got, and how tough it was going to be in the second half. It didn’t take long for VAR to weave its magic again, a lovely ball through the middle for Kosta to run on to before being dumped to the ground. The ref was quick to signal offside, but the bunker again got involved and Sydney had their second penalty of the night. It was quite an unusual situation in the Cove, as it was so unclear what was happening. So much so that when the penalty was easily saved, it didn’t really register as anything important in the context of the game.

There was obviously something going on in the Cove. The guys down the front weren’t watching the game, there appeared to be someone being tended to, first by the stewards, then the police and finally an ambulance crew who appeared next to the scoreboard. The next half an hour of the game was played out in eerie silence from the Cove, while the play went on. The flags were held up to shield the incident from view and the Sydney FC fans rallied in concern for their fellow fan. In the meantime, the action continued. Tomi Juric might have got a penalty for a whack on the head, but it was from a free-kick that Adelaide struck to get back into the game. Juric lifted the ball into the wall, and when it dropped, Juande had a moment to compose himself before rifling a shot around the wall and into the corner of the net. We were right behind it, what a strike! Unbelievably VAR got involved again, there was nothing to suggest any offside or interference or anything, and the goal quite rightly stood after a ridiculous VAR check.

Sydney were still the better team though, and they brought on their young guns to try and out-run their fast-finishing opponents. Patrick Wood was released to fire a shot wide, and he was sent scampering through with a few minutes left on the clock. The Cove had reassembled, their unwell member having been applauded into the ambulance, and the atmosphere was hedonistic. The chants and shouts returned with venom, and when Wood turned his man inside out and squared for Harry Van Der Saag, it was fever pitch as the ball went through his legs and the tap-in was spurned.

The game ended after a massive amount of VAR injury time, and Sydney FC players, staff and fans punched the air. Another Grand Final! The players assembled and came to salute the Cove before departing to applause and a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. One fervent fan took a wrong turn and ended up parading his scarf on the field before being escorted off to chuckles from the crowd.

The nasty conditions had already claimed a few victims, some of the younger members of the crowd being whipped away before the end by their concerned parents, and the stadium was quick to empty. The clean up operation was in full swing within 30 seconds of the end of the game, the second semi-final here tomorrow to decide our opponents in the grand final.

We retreated to the main gate to meet Aurelia, who had survived the elements in the ball crew, and had really enjoyed the experience. Thanks as always to Ross for looking after the young crew. Thanks also to Shane for taking this cracking shot :

After pausing to see some of the players’ family members at the main gate and see some of the guests who had benefited heavily from the corporate hospitality (blue blazer guy?) it was time to get back home. Traffic was light by now and we were back by 10.30pm. Time to put the feet up and watch Euro 2020 with a glass of wine to end a fabulous evening of football, shouting and wild weather.

Where will the Grand Final be? Find out soon when agent DT pulls off a major coup and the final is announced for Sydney. Bring it on! Cancel all plans for Saturday.

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