AFTER 23 weeks and 156 games, it’s time to get down to business.
The A-League 2021 Finals Series kicks off this week, five games to crown the Champions and give the stage to some of Australia’s brightest young football talent.
After a home-and-away season dubbed by many experts as the best for years, the spotlight narrows to a pair of Elimination Finals this weekend, then two Semi Finals, before the A-League 2021 Grand Final on Saturday 26 June.
Sydney FC go looking for a record third consecutive A-League Championship – a feat no club has achieved – with the Sky Blues in an A-League semi-final next Saturday night.
Captain Alex Wilkinson has played in 25 Finals Series matches, seven more than any other A-League player but he says he still gets a thrill from playing in them.
“I think the excitement is definitely the same. It’s nice to get the season wrapped up and now you get into those really important games, the cut-throat ones which are sudden death,” he said.
“We are really looking forward to it, we’ve come into the Finals Series in a bit of form with five wins in a row and we are bidding to be the first team ever to win three Grand Finals in a row, so there’s a lot of things at stake for us.”
With the highest number of young players featuring in A-League history, this year’s Finals Series presents a glorious opportunity for young Australian players to make a name for themselves and become heroes.
Former domestic football stars, Olyroos and Socceroos John Markovski, Paul Wade, Mark Bosnich, Jade North and Ross Aloisi helped launch the A-League 2021 Finals Series across Australia, along with the six competing clubs Melbourne City FC, Sydney FC, Central Coast Mariners, Brisbane Roar FC, Adelaide United and Macarthur FC.
The international stage beckons for those who seize the moment, for the Olyroos squad to play at the Tokyo Olympics – likely to have a strong proportion of A-League players – will be named in late June.
Sydney FC left back Joel King is one of the favourites for selection.
“It’s a goal of mine at the moment so if I play well enough in these last few games then I get a ticket for the Olympic squad and it will be a good opportunity for me to expose myself to the rest of the world, so it’s exciting,” said the 20-year old.
“It would be a dream come true if I do get picked, especially with the Olympics being the biggest sporting event in the world.
“If I can perform in the Finals then hopefully Arnie (Olyroos Head Coach Graham Arnold) would have belief in me to perform in the Olympics.”
Already this season the emergence of new talent has provided Socceroos and Olyroos coach Graham Arnold and Australia’s youth national team coaches with far more depth.
This is the closest the domestic Finals Series (in either the NSL or the A-League) have fallen before the Olympics. This season has seen more than 100 Olyroos-eligible players make at least five A-League appearances, and 88 have played 10 games or more.
From a club point of view there have been some incredible stories develop since the start of the season, with the Mariners back in the finals for the first time in seven years, hosting an Elimination Final against Macarthur FC – a team making its debut in the A-League this season.
Brisbane Roar FC will take on Adelaide United in the second Elimination Final, with the winners of the two games going through to face Premiers Melbourne City FC and defending champions Sydney FC in the Semi Finals.
The A-League 2021 Finals Series will be broadcast live on FOX SPORTS, Kayo and My Football Live with delayed coverage on ABC TV.