The two-time champions versus the brash new kids in town. The intimidating roar of the North Terrace facing off against the noisy neighbour’s Yarraside. It’s the mouth-watering Melbourne derby and it kicks off the 2012-2013 football / soccer A League season.
Melbourne Heart only joined the competition in 2010, but have a solid fan base, derided by Melbourne Victory fans as defectors or tourists. The Heart in turn view the Victory, with their two championships, as a bit too pleased with themselves. Last season the Heart scraped into the finals, and even though they were eliminated in quick time, enjoyed the failure of Victory to make the top six in a disastrous campaign.
The story so far: Six meetings. The Heart have won two, Victory one and three draws.
The new season: Heart have gambled on John Aloisi (the bloke who took that penalty to take us to the 2006 World Cup) as coach. The retired Heart striker will be up against experienced bosses, such as Ange Postecoglou, who Victory have snared after his Brisbane squad won the last two titles with a style light years ahead of the rest. He’ll be expected to conjure something similar back (home) in Melbourne.
The teams: Victory have the buy of the season in Argentinian Marcos Flores, a former A League player of the year with Adelaide United. Having lost Harry Kewell it looked like the club would be missing a real star, but they easily outbid Adelaide (to the consternation of that city’s football fans) and Flores will take the Victory’s marquee player spot after a stint in China. Socceroo defender Mark Milligan has returned from Japan. Victory’s defence last season was more Keystone Cops than professional footballers, so two excellent buys, and 18-year-old Sierra Leone refugee Julius Davies looks promising, too.
Heart have imported Swiss/Liberian defender Patrick Gerhardt, but have lost young star striker Eli Babalj to Red Star Belgrade. Ex-Dynamo Zagreb Croat Josip Tadic has been brought in – a gamble since he has been playing in the lower divisions of Europe since 2009. Heart has plenty of experience though with veteran defender Simon Colosimo, utility Matt Thompson and goalkeeper Clint Bolton. They also have the mercurial Brazilian Fred, a former Victory star who returned to Melbourne last year to captain the crosstown enemy. His vision and defence-splitting passes are of the highest quality. Aziz Behich (pictured) looked to be heading to Turkey but his staying put is a big plus, too.
Players to watch:
Mate Dugandzic: Heart’s attacking midfielder and Under 23 international is one of the rising stars of Australian football. His speed and pinpoint accuracy from free kicks cause mayhem for opposition defenders. Only 22, he is still developing his game and will be in the sights of overseas clubs this year.
Archie Thompson: At the Victory since their debut in 2005, and still thrilling to watch when in full flight. Archie is (surprisingly) back in the starting Socceroo line-up, but last season missed a slew of open goals your gran could have scored and frankly, he needs to get his shit together.
Prognosis: The Victory have a wealth of talent and the best coach in the league and should finish top three.
The Heart might find life a little harder, but if Tadic settles in and scores goals, and Fred turns on the magic, the defence are strong enough to comfortably take the side into, let’s say, fourth or fifth. Who will win game one? The first game of the season is always a draw. God made it that way.