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A-League opening weekend dominated by VAR controversies

Rob Brooks breaks down all the highs and lows from week one of the 2018-19 A-League season in our Weekend Review.

Talking point of the weekend

The opening round of a highly anticipated A-League season, sadly, belonged to the Video Assistant Referee. The much-maligned VAR system was used extensively across the competition and, rather than result in better decisions being made, it only served to make fans furious.

The first real cry of outrage came when Melbourne City were awarded a penalty for an alleged foul on Bruno Fornaroli in the Melbourne derby. Referee Kurt Ams originally gave a free kick on the edge of the box, but a VAR review ended with the ball being placed on the spot.

Unfortunately, of course, it was never a foul to begin with. Despite numerous replays which showed Corey Brown barely grazed Fornaroli's knee -- certainly not with enough force to bring him crashing down the way he did -- Ams awarded a game-changing penalty, which allowed City to level the game 1-1 before scoring a winner through new signing Riley McGree.

So, not only did the decision alter the outcome of the game, it absolved Fornaroli of diving in a contest which deserved so much more.

There were also controversial VAR decisions made in Wellington's victory at home to Newcastle, as well as Brisbane's 1-1 draw against Central Coast.

The winner in Wellington came after referee Daniel Elder checked on an incident inside the penalty area, though play had long since moved on. It was ruled that Jets substitute Kaine Sheppard brought down Phoenix midfielder Mitch Nichols, who appeared to have no chance of getting to the ball.

In Brisbane, Adam Taggart had an incredibly close offside decision go against him just as the home faithful thought he had restored parity. Fortunately, Taggart did net an equaliser moments later.

There will be very few supporters who agree with all refereeing decisions across a given weekend. But the use of VAR should mean that most agree with the big calls which play a major role in the outcome of games. On the evidence of Round 1, the A-League is a long way from being at that point.

Goal of the weekend

This was a close call, as Western Sydney's Roly Bonevacia's second-half goal in the 1-1 draw with Perth made a late case for inclusion, but Dimi Petratos just gets the nod here.

It may only have been a consolation, but the fierce strike from Petratos in Newcastle's 2-1 loss to Wellington revealed more than just frustration at the result.

The fringe Socceroo's goal capped a sweeping team move, which started deep in their own half when Steve Ugarkovic picked up a loose ball. The midfielder then released the pace of substitute winger Mitch Austin in behind the Phoenix defence.

Austin played a neat first-time ball into the path of Petratos, who belted it across Phoenix goalkeeper Filip Kurto and into the net.

It was a glimpse of the kind of free-flowing, fast-paced team football which saw the Jets reach last season's Grand Final and which they will need to replicate on a regular basis to reach the same heights in this campaign.

Player(s) of the weekend

The entire Central Coast Mariners backline deserve some credit for a fine showing in tricky conditions in Brisbane.

After kick-off was delayed due to a heavy storm, the Mariners settled into the conditions nicely, taking the lead through Connor Pain. And though they ultimately conceded an equaliser, the performances of Kye Rowles, Jack Clisby, Kalifa Cisse and Antony Golec remained rock solid throughout.

Central Coast -- who may yet sign Usain Bolt to a contract -- will certainly improve on last season's dismal showing if they can maintain that kind of resilience week-to-week.

Disappointment of the weekend

Despite the hype surrounding Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC over the preseason, the competition favourites started relatively slowly.

The Victory were, of course, on the wrong side of a controversial call in their 2-1 defeat at the hands of cross-town rivals City, but they also reacted quite poorly to the decision. Kevin Muscat's men should never have allowed McGree to stroll through the heart of their defence for the winner, while at the other end Kenny Athiu spurned a number of opportunities.

Sydney, meanwhile, did manage to take a point home from Adelaide after a 1-1 draw to start the round. Aside from Adam Le Fondre's equaliser, though, the Sky Blues created very few chances and looked a shadow of the side which has been so dominant for the past few seasons.

Naturally, all teams will have room for improvement after the opening round. It's just that last season's Premiers and Champions arguably have more scope to grow than others.

Silver lining of the weekend

Japan international Keisuke Honda making his first appearance in the A-League was a clear highlight of the weekend. The 32-year-old oozed class in his side's Melbourne derby defeat, and scored from a powerful header in the first half.

Having players of Honda's ilk will help to lift the level of play across the league. Though it didn't necessarily have that effect on his Melbourne Victory teammates this weekend, the 40,504 fans at Marvel Stadium and the countless thousands watching across the world were left in no doubt as to the mark he can potentially make in Australia.

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