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FFA turmoil could harm the Matildas

Australia
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 By Rob Brooks

A-League finals: Can anyone beat Sydney FC and the Newcastle Jets?

This A-League season has been a two-horse race, but with Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets showing glimpses of vulnerability over the past month, could one of the remaining four teams steal championship glory?

That will certainly be the goal for Melbourne City, Melbourne Victory, Adelaide United and Brisbane Roar when the finals series kicks off this weekend.

Both matches in week one of the finals will be held at AAMI Park in Melbourne, with City hosting Brisbane on Friday before the Victory welcome Adelaide to town on Sunday.

City succumbed at the same stage of the finals last season, when they fell 2-0 at home to Perth Glory. This time around, Warren Joyce's men head into their elimination fixture having been beaten just once in their last five starts, with talisman and skipper Bruno Fornaroli scoring five times since returning from a broken ankle last month.

Indeed, City Football Group as a whole will be buoyed by the club's third-place finish, paving the way for possible entry into the 2019 AFC Champions League.

Before they reach for success on the continent, though, they will need to overcome a plucky Brisbane Roar side, who scraped through to the finals at the last possible chance courtesy of a 3-2 win over Perth coupled with the Western Sydney Wanderers stumbling by the same scoreline against Adelaide.

Adrian Mierzejewski leads a fearsome Sydney FC midfield that's dominated opponents.

As a result, Brisbane qualified for their eighth successive finals series, but coach John Aloisi will be sweating over the fitness of former Socceroo Brett Holman, who has been hampered by a knee injury this week.

Melbourne Victory, meanwhile, will be hoping that their players recover quickly from a midweek 2-1 win against Shanghai SIPG in the ACL.

Kevin Muscat's charges were unable to overcome Sydney FC in the final round of the regular season due to some poor finishing, but revenge lies in wait in week two of the finals if they can put another fierce rival, Adelaide United, to the sword.

The Reds are eager to face their foes in navy and white once again, with the clubs playing in two of the first four A-League Grand Finals.

Adelaide coach Marco Kurz will be delighted that his opponents will have to backup from their Wednesday night match, while he is able to nurse key imports Johan Absalonsen and Papa Baba Diawara through the week.

But can any of these sides conceivably surpass Sydney or conquer Newcastle when the stakes are at their highest, despite those clubs' recent hiccups? Are they all just playing to extend their respective seasons by one week before an inevitable Grand Final matchup takes place?

Sydney have been so strong over the past two seasons that some have labelled the competition too predictable. That, however, will suit future Socceroos boss Graham Arnold just fine.

Bruno Fornaroli has netted five goals for Melbourne City since returning from injury a month ago.

His midfield quartet of Brandon O'Neill, Josh Brillante, Milos Ninkovic and recently crowned Alex Tobin medal winner Adrian Mierzejewski continue to dominate all comers, making them still the firm favourites to lift the championship trophy.

Newcastle, despite losing defender Ben Kantarovski to a hamstring tear, will also be in high spirits when it comes time for them to face the highest-placed winner from finals week one.

Not only will they have home advantage, the Jets are coming off an astounding 8-2 thumping of Central Coast Mariners in their last start, with coach Ernie Merrick being rewarded with a new one-year deal to remain in the Hunter region.

It seems Sydney and Newcastle are still the frontrunners of the competition. Something monumental would need to happen for one of those teams not to host the Grand Final in the first weekend of May.

But in cup-style sudden-death football there shines an eternal glimmer of hope for every underdog. All six sides believe they can win it all, and that is what will make for spectacular conclusion to this season.

Rob Brooks writes about Australian football and the A-League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @RobNJBrooks

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