Western Sydney coach Tony Popovic thought it wasn’t pure football, but to his triumphant Adelaide United counterpart Guillermo Amor it was pure beauty.
Adelaide completed a scarcely believable rise from chumps to champs with a 3-1 victory over the Wanderers in Sunday’s A-League grand final.
United were winless after eight rounds. Now, they have the double: the Premiers’ Plate and the club’s first league championship.
“They didn’t play football,” Popovic said of Adelaide.
“They play forward long balls … that is what you get in a final and they dealt with it better than us.”
Amor, a Barcelona great remarkably in his first season as a senior coach, had a different slant on a nerve-jangling triumph before 50,119 spectators at Adelaide Oval.
“It was a special day … these moments you enjoy a lot. Is beautiful,” Amor said.
“In this moment, we must enjoy.”
Adelaide skipped ahead through a close-range Bruce Kamau goal in the 22nd minute when the Kenyan-born attacker darted in front of a slumbering Wanderers defence to latch on to a Marcelo Carrusca cross.
Carrusca had cruised along the left flank and arrowed a speculative cross into the box – Western Sydney defender Scott Jamieson appeared well placed to deal with the danger but inexplicably was flat-footed as Kamau darted ahead of him.
The Adelaide attacker angled a left-footer past Wanderers goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne from five metres out.
Just 12 minutes later, man-of-the-match Isaias scored a stunner: from a free kick some 18 metres out, he curled the dead-ball over the wall and into the top left-side netting.
“It was a little bit lucky but it was a beautiful goal,” the Spaniard said.
But true to character, the Wanderers fought back with a Scott Neville strike in the 58th minute reviving the visitors.
After being played in by a Brendon Santalab back-heel, Neville blasted into the net from 10 metres with the outside of his right boot.
The next half-hour was knife-edge until Adelaide substitute Pablo Sanchez sealed the title with a 90th-minute goal, sparking wild celebrations in the pro-Adelaide crowd.
From their dire early predicament, the Reds lost just once in their past 21 games – 16 wins and four draws – taking them to the title.
“To do the double from the position we were at after round eight, not many teams could have done that,” United captain Eugene Galekovic said.
“We struck together and fought to the end.”
The victory was Adelaide’s first from three grand finals, and left the Wanderers with three losses in the decider in four seasons.
“There is one thing that is missing for this football club and that is winning the grand final,” Popovic said.
“We have won a [Asian] Champions League, we have got a Premiers Plate.
“For a young club, we’re in the right direction for sure. And we will keep working hard to get this silverware to the club.”