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Mar 19, 2010

A Grand rivalry

It has taken five years but finally the A-League's two biggest rivals will meet on Australian club football's biggest stage for the chance to claim what has to be ultimate bragging rights.

• Taylor: Australia awaits showdown
• Join Brett Taylor for LIVE coverage of the A-League Grand Final on Saturday night from 6:30pm AEDT

While they are yet to share the stage at the big dance, many fixtures involving Melbourne and Sydney have had all the hallmarks of an epic finale. Ever since Archie Thompson dazzled in Victory's 5-0 mauling of Sydney FC at Olympic Park in the first season, the A-League's headline act has continually provided fans with doses of action, drama and smoke inhalation courtesy of the common flare.

There have been moments where players have seen red - literally - like Fred in Round Two of the 2006-07 season, when he leapt like a Capoeira warrior towards Mark Milligan and floored him with an elbow to the throat. He consequently received a three-match ban from the FFA, and no doubt a higher grading in martial arts.

Mark Rudan also showcased his fiery side in the same encounter when he smashed through Brazilian import Alessandro, punishing him for a fine piece of trickery and collecting a pass for an early shower on his way.

There have been moments that have produced some new tactics, such as the infamous Melbourne corner tactic of Round Two in the second season when Adrian Leijer broke Robbie Middleby's collarbone with an off-the-ball hip and shoulder charge that Vinnie Jones would've been proud of. Kevin Muscat, who was being marked by Middleby, took full advantage of being unmarked, flicking the ball into the goalmouth, where it eventually fell to Danny Allsopp who made no mistake from inside the six-yard box.

There have been moments that have signalled a new era for the sport. Crowds between these two teams had always been healthy; over 25,000 fans witnessed derby No. 1 at the Sydney Football Stadium, while a shade under 40,000 flocked to then the Telstra Dome for the Victory's 3-2 win in 2006. The attendance that made the biggest noise, however, was in Round 16 of the second season when 50,333 walked through the turnstiles at Telstra Dome. While the 0-0 result failed to live up to the hype, much like an over-publicised Hollywood sequel, it placed the A-League on the map and served up some notice to its rival codes.

Then, of course, there have been the games that have provided the foundation for a rivalry that remains the envy of other codes across the country. The rivalry really took shape after the Victory inflicted that 5-0 defeat on Sydney, however Melbourne added further fuel to the fire after their amazing comeback to win in Round 17 of the 2008-09 season.

Shannon Cole got the ball rolling early for Sydney, curling an absolute screamer into Michael Theoklitos' top corner inside the opening minute. Team-mate Brendan Gan then stunned the home crowd further just three minutes later with a gem of his own; his first-time drive finding the same spot in the net as Cole's.

Tempers began to flare, and this became evident when Danny Allsopp sent Sydney FC coach John Kosmina crashing into the laps of his coaching staff. While chasing an over-hit pass, Allsopp received a 'friendly' nudge from Robbie Middleby that sent the Victory striker careering for 'Kossie'. Thompson pegged one back for Victory ten minutes later, then, with 12 minutes remaining, Merrick threw on Nick Ward and his impact was immediate. Thirty seconds, in fact. His angled drive with the outside of his boot flew past Bolton and in doing so, became a nomination for goal of the night. Ney Fabiano sealed the win just two minutes later, handing the Victory one if their finest triumphs.

It hasn't been until this season that Sydney have been able gain the mental edge, and perhaps gain the ascendancy. But it's been well worth the wait. Just like Liverpool's six minutes of madness in the 2005 UEFA Champions League final against AC Milan, Sydney FC experienced their own six-minute purple patch against the Victory in Round Ten this season, sending three goals past Glen Moss and reducing the 30,668 home crowd to speechless bewilderment.

The top-of-the-table clash had the makings for a spectacular encounter. And in Sydney's case, it was. Barely 15 minutes had passed before Alex Brosque opened the scoring, rising between Matthew Kemp and Leigh Broxham to navigate his header from a Simon Colosimo cross into Glen Moss' top corner. A swift Sydney counter attack shortly after the restart put the hosts further on the back foot; Mark Bridge cushioning a lofted pass from Terry McFlynn with his right before guiding the ball past Moss with his left.

The pick of the bunch, however, was Sydney's third, and Bridge's second. Having been played into space on the right flank, Shannon Cole sent a perfectly-weighted cross that looped over the Victory defence and dipped onto the boot of Bridge, who made no mistake in reuniting the ball with the back of the net.

While Melbourne may have generated more of the memorable moments between the two, the Sky Blues do hold the ultimate bragging rights for the time being: taking the Premier's Plate from Victory's hands on the final day of the 2009-10 season.

As evidenced by five years of intense rivalry, there's very little separating these two great teams. You'll have better luck at guessing lotto numbers than predicting the outcome of this fixture.

Victory coach Ernie Merrick took a massive gamble on Robbie Kruse and Archie Thompson in the second leg of the Major semi-final, and soon enough we'll find out how crucial that gamble was in the context of determining the A-League champions for season 2009-10.

Either way, it'll be another footnote in the history of these two sides, just like the events that are set to unfold this weekend.

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