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Jan 24, 2008

Sydney FC geared for late gains: Poppa

Sydney FC captain Tony Popovic believes the club's early season woes have them steeled for a run at the A-League championship.

Mired in sixth place when coach John Kosmina took the reins from Branko Culina in late October, Sydney will on Friday night kick off the final series against Queensland Roar confident they can walk the elimination tightrope and claim a second title.

Popovic said his players never lost faith early in the season despite things not going Sydney's way, with the team now benefiting from surviving that adversity.

"The belief was always there, the players all thought that we were good enough to do it, if we didn't I probably wouldn't be standing here talking about the semi-finals now," said Popovic today after Sydney's final training run ahead of the first leg of the minor semi-final.

"You go through hard times ... and I think the adversity we went through early on has made us stronger as a group.

"I think we went through some difficult times and the group stayed strong in the dressing room, and I think that's showing now.

"We really didn't want to go back to where we were and that kept our great run going.

"Obviously Kossie has come in, and credit to him he's changed things around for us."

Under Kosmina, Sydney have lost just once in 12 games, and with Queensland troubled by injury and suspension the home side will go in as favourites at the Sydney Football Stadium.

While boosted by the return of Korean Hyuk-Su Seo from a calf injury, the Roar will be without combative midfielder Danny Tiatto (two-week suspension), goalkeeper Liam Reddy and Stuart McLaren, with skipper Craig Moore also struggling with a groin concern.

Sydney have no such worries, with Kosmina tipping Brazilian star Juninho to shine after his return to the first team last week, and making just one change to his line-up - bringing in the experienced Brendan Renaud to left back for Olyroo Ruben Zadkovich.

"I like lefties on the left-hand side of the park and Brendan has got a great left peg for getting balls into the box, and he'll give us a bit more defensively on that left hand side," Kosmina said.

With the Roar making their finals debut, Farina had little hesitation in labelling the semi-final the biggest tie in the club's history, but was confident his young brigade of Michael Zullo, Robbie Kruse and Tahj Minniecon could handle the pressure.

"A lot of them most probably haven't been in finals before, so it's going to be a learning curve for a few players, but on the night it doesn't really count for much, because once its 11 versus 11 on the park you got to try and win your battles and that's what I'll be trying to do," Farina said.

"We've got a certain way we'll play against Sydney.

"They're in good form, they've finished the last 12 games with one loss, so they're in good form and got everyone fit and ready to go.

"We've most probably got a couple of problems with players that are out but that's life and you move on with it."

Popovic last Sunday branded the re-laid SFS pitch as "rubbish" but today said it had improved.

More than 22,000 tickets had been sold today, with organisers hopeful of a crowd between 25,000 and 30,000.

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