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Aug 19, 2007

FFA boss predicts record A-League season

The A-League set a new benchmark in Australian club soccer last season, but Football Federation Australia boss Ben Buckley believes version three can again re-write the record books.

A string of record attendances - including more than 55,000 at Telstra Dome for the grand final - highlighted the success of season two.

Buckley on Monday issued a challenge to the A-League's players, coaches and administrators to bring even bigger crowds to the game when the third season kicks off on Friday.

"The good thing is every year we seem to be growing, which is important," Buckley said after Monday's official launch in Sydney where all eight captains and coaches, as well as the likes of Brazilian World Cup winner and Sydney FC marquee star Juninho, helped usher in the 2007/08 season.

"The momentum's there and the signs are there for a bigger season.

"The pre-season has been particularly even, playing wise, and the crowds have been strong.

"The signing of new players has also created its own level of interest and momentum, so you expect that every year we continue to build in profile and interest level, and I think everything so far it is all pointing towards an even bigger season."

Buckley said attendances during the recent pre-season cup had risen 20 per cent on the previous year, with club membership growing by 15 per cent.

The A-League has set a target of 50,000 memberships for the coming season, with Melbourne Victory well out in front in the club stakes with 16,000 supporters already on their books.

Asked if he hoped the A-League could soon compete with the likes of Australia's leading football competitions the AFL and NRL in terms of support and interest, Buckley said: "Those guys have been doing it for a lot longer, and they're good benchmarks to chase and to learn from, and we think we could do that.

"But at the moment our focus is on doing what we do and doing that extremely well."

Inaugural champions Sydney FC and Central Coast will kick off the new season at the Sydney Football Stadium on Friday night in a re-match of the A-League's first grand final.

On Saturday, Queensland Roar host pre-season cup winners Adelaide United.

Melbourne Victory begin their championship defence on Sunday in New Zealand against newcomers Wellington Phoenix, and Perth Glory host the Newcastle Jets.

Meanwhile, Buckley said the FFA had completed its review into Australia's disappointing Asian Cup campaign, but refused to comment on the coaching issue.

"We've completed that and presented it to the board," Buckley said.

"There was a number of recommendations we made to the board as part of that, and hopefully we'll those recommendations will be instituted over the course of the next 12 months.

"In terms of the coaching job, all we're saying is we hope to make an announcement soon."

Dutchman Dick Advocaat is widely tipped to be appointed the Socceroos new boss by November, taking over from Graham Arnold.

There had been reports former South Korean coach Pim Verbeek - who has served as an assistant to both Guus Hiddink and Advocaat in the past - could re-unite with Advocaat at the Socceroos.

But the Dutchman, while admitting his interest in the Australian head coaching job, has ruled himself out of linking with the Australian team as an assistant.

Buckley said more than 65,000 tickets had been sold for Sydney FC's marquee clash with David Beckham's LA Galaxy at Telstra Stadium on November 27.