Melbourne Victory got off to a flyer in the A-League finals on Friday night, knocking off Wellington Phoenix 3-1 and setting up a mouth-watering clash with Sydney FC.
Victory’s Georg Niedermeier, Kosta Barbarouses and Ola Toivonen scored the goals while Keisuke Honda and Raul Baena marshalled the midfield against a physical Phoenix outfit, who ended with 10 men.
Substitute Sarpreet Singh curled a delightful ball for golden boot winner Roy Krishna to give Wellington hope at 2-1, but Toivonen’s superb dinked finish killed the contest with 20 minutes remaining.
Last year victory defeated Sydney FC in the semi-final 3-2 on the way to a fourth championship.
Both Victory and the Sky Blues will head to South Korea for midweek Champions League matches before meeting at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on Sunday.
Underdogs Wellington, rank outsiders in their first final in four years, took it up to Victory in the opening half hour.
As Victory began to play their way in, the Nix responded with tough treatment. Toivonen was floored twice by blows to the head, then brought down by David Williams’ late sliding tackle.
From the resulting set piece, Victory took the lead.
Marquee man Honda stepped up and lobbed the ball over the Phoenix defence, allowing Niedermeier to ghost past Andrew Durante, arch his back and nod past Filip Kurto.
Within two minutes of the restart, Barbarouses should have tapped in to make it 2-0 but the Kiwi forward sliced Toivonen’s cross wide of the far post. Shortly after, the pair combined again and made no mistake.
Mandi’s awful backpass allowed Toivonen to play in Barbarouses, who placed his shot calmly under the onrushing Kurto.
The Spanish midfielder was hooked shortly after, with Mark Rudan switching systems and placing Krishna as the sole frontman.
Singh found the Fijian alone in the box on 64 minutes and he poked an effort past Thomas.
Victory responded maturely. Baena won a key midfield battle and Victory raced the ball downfield, allowing Toivonen to chip over Kurto from an acute angle.
The dominant Swede was then elbowed by Michal Kopczynski, earning the Pole a second yellow and an injury-time sending off.
Earlier in the day Melbourne Victory said it was still hopeful of convincing Honda to stay for another A-League season despite the Japanese star indicating he may be leaving.
Honda told Fox Sports this season will be his one and only in Australia.
“I still don’t decide where I will play next year,” he said. “But I knew that I would stay for just (one) year so I hope no one is surprised, no one disappointed.”
Honda, 32, signed with the A-League champions on a one-year deal worth around $2 million with assistance from FFA’s marquee fund.
A-LEAGUE FINALS SCHEDULE (All times AEST)
ELIMINATION FINAL – Sunday: Adelaide United v Melbourne City (Coopers Stadium) 7pm
SEMI-FINALS – WEEK TWO –
Friday, May 10: Perth v Adelaide United or Melbourne City (HBF Stadium) 8.30pm
Sunday, May 12: Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory (Jubilee Oval) 7pm
GRAND FINAL – WEEK THREE:
May 18 or 19 (to be determined): Semi-final 1 winner v semi-final 2 winner (highest-ranked team to host match).