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Melbourne Victory's Vargas: Clean sweep is on

The Phoenix were arguably the better side on the night and came close to scoring on numerous occasions but the cohesion of a new Victory defense did enough to hold out the slick attacking style of the Phoenix forwards.

Early in the match, played in slippery conditions, the Phoenix peppered the scoring zone mainly from the right flank with link man Leo Bertos causing Victory coach Ernie Merrick some headaches and striker Adam Kwasnik trying his luck from various angles in the first quarter of an hour.

Victory's new-look defense managed to snuff out any real chances, with youngster Seb Ryall and recruit Michael Thwaite looking at home down back, and it was the back four who edged the Victory back into the contest with a more steady supply into the midfield.

The game ebbed and flowed for the remainder of an absorbing first-half which at least supplied the fans with a few heavy tackles making up for a lack of goal-scoring chances.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert made a change at half-time, adding some forward fire power in Vaughan Coveny, but it was the visiting side that came out firing.

Matthew Kemp was booked for a challenge on Leilei Gao and minutes later there was a case of testosterone-fueled argy-bargy when Phoenix skipper Jon McKain made contact with Victory goalkeeper Michael Theoklitos who retaliated with a swinging arm.

This is when the game lifted a notch and to add to the entertainment, Gao did his best impersonation of Greg Louganis but was shown a caution rather than a perfect ten.

Victory had some chances through Brazilian Ney Fabiano and Daniel Allsopp before Wellington's Richard Johnson provided the opportunity of the night with sublime control before a lofted left-foot shot that bought about the best of ‘keeper Theoklitos.

It was a frantic end to regular time with turn-overs in midfield, defensive blunders and secure goalkeeping being the case for the final ten minutes. Enter the penalty shoot-out.

Victory's stand-in skipper Rodrigo Vargas took it upon himself to get the ball rolling and netted his spot kick but only marginally as Phoenix talisman Shane Smeltz wasted his chance when he shot high over the crossbar.

The next two penalties for both sides were scored under pressure until Victory winger Nick Ward struck his over the bar giving the home side a gaping hole of opportunity which was duly taken by Coveny who rocketed into the back of the net.

It was tit for tat for the next 9 spot kicks until man of the match Theoklitos saved a Karl Dodd shot, giving Melbourne Victory the win and providing them with a third piece of silverware to go along with the 2006/07 Premiership and 2007 Championship Titles.

When quizzed on the feeling of the night, Vargas was very complimentary of the home crowd, "Brilliant turnout, all credit to the New Zealand fans, I think nine and a half thousand (crowd) so great atmosphere."

He was also quick to point out that tonight's opposition will be no easy feat in 2008/2009.

"New Zealand (Wellington) will be very competitive this season, how they put up a good fight, as you saw it went to penalties. They'll be very strong this year."

Although it was a final, it was also a pre-season match and the players still have some sharpening up to do which Vargas pointed out.

"Maybe a little rusty, first time in (front) a big crowd, there was something to play for, so we looked to benefit from that."

And the fact that Victory managed to clinch a third A-League title was not lost on the number 12.

"It's a clean sweep. We said we were going to play for silverware this year so hopefully we get two more.

"It's the best preparation we could've asked for, for the A-League season."

About the author

Tribal Football Staff

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