Alessandro Diamanti’s first-half spellbinding free kick goal was enough to settle a cutthroat A-League elimination final, and set up an all-Melbourne semi-final in the process, as Western United beat Brisbane Roar 1-0 at Bankwest Stadium on Sunday night.
As Western United now prepare for the challenge of Melbourne City on Wednesday evening with a place in the A-League’s grand final hanging in the balance, they can currently savour the feat of having won its first-ever final in its debut season.
“To see where we were when we started 12 months ago to where we are now, one thing we do talk about are our values and our growth and our effort, and it was all there today,” said Western United coach Mark Rudan afterwards, as players and coaches were enjoying the moment with impromptu dance moves in the changerooms.
Perhaps the worst dancing this side of Elaine Benes, but Western United deserve their moment of success.
“It’s one thing to write it all up on a whiteboard, but these players go out there and represent the football club with class and style,” he said.
“Our collective spirit is unlike anything I’ve ever seen – and when I see games like these where everyone is fighting for each other, they deserve everything they get.
“It is so important in sport that you enjoy the good moments – they put so much effort in what they do, so why not enjoy it?” added Rudan.
After an opening 20 minutes which ebbed and flowed passively in both directions, an example of set-piece magic from Western United’s chief entertainer Diamanti set the game alight.
Given a free kick from 25 yards out after teammate Besart Berisha had his shoulders pinned down from the leaping challenge of Brisbane defender Tom Aldred, Diamanti wrapped his lethal left foot around the dead ball and curled it around the wall and just inside Jamie Young’s near post, giving the Roar ’keeper no chance despite his full stretch.
“He leads by example, and that was just a moment of class. Had to stand back and admire that. He gave us a lift when we needed it,” said teammate Max Burgess about Diamanti’s goal of sheer brilliance.
After the goal, Western United were proceeding to do two things well – maintaining possession, perhaps even better than they were prior to Diamanti’s wonderstrike, and maintaining a watertight defensive shape that limited Brisbane’s chances to a bare minimum.
Diamanti was unlucky not to double his account on the night and Western United’s lead seven minutes later when, after an outstanding spell of possession by the men in green and black, he curled his shot wide left from just inside the 18-yard box.
The Roar, in the 37th minute, went close to equalising when Scott MacDonald threatened to score against the team he started the season with, going wide left with his shot after strike partner Dylan Wenzel-Halls had done well to set him up with silver service.
As Brisbane’s Matthew Ridenton missed wide left with a volley as the opening half expired, Western United were unlucky not to be up by more than the single-goal margin, such were the quality of their chances versus Brisbane’s select few half-chances.
But the game was also, at times, a very chippy and tight affair. Tomoki Imai and Tomislav Uskok from Western United wound up in the referee’s book while Aldred saw yellow before the break, but other players were lucky not to have been disciplined as well. At this rate, chances would be assumed good that the match wouldn’t finish eleven-on-eleven.
As Western United were defending with five and six men in their own penalty area to further limit Brisbane’s chances at the start of the second half, they were counterattacking with pace and precision to seek out a second goal. And seven minutes after the break, Young had to be at his peak to deny Josh Risdon on the doorstep after an exquisite through-ball from Diamanti.
McDonald’s frustrations in attack came to the forefront on 64 minutes when he got booked for a late challenge on Uskok, and Western United Andrew Durante joined him for a high challenge four minutes later, as intensities increased.
Brisbane would have a couple of chances to try and level matters – first in the 67th minute when Bradden Inman took Jay O’Shea’s through-ball when the Roar were on a three-on-two break, only to hit the post to Western United goalkeeper Filip Kurto’s left, then three minutes later Macauley Gillesphey had a free kick from 23 yards that sailed just over.
Berisha was unlucky not to have finished off a four-man Western United move with ten minutes to play. With Burgess and Connor Pain holding up possession well, Berisha took a pass from Steven Lustica and lofted it just over Young’s goal.
Brisbane defender Corey Brown, on a run forward, had appeared to have beaten Kurto to the far post in the 83rd minute, but Aaron Calver came to the rescue of his goalkeeper to halt the path of the well-placed shot.
As Rudan brought on tactical and injury-related reinforcements in the final minutes, Western United’s players tightened the clamps to finish off a historic win – one which leaves them a minimum of 180 minutes away from the A-League premiership.
“Pretty gritty effort from everyone, even all those who came on late, the togetherness we showed today was first-class,” said Burgess.
“A semi-final in our first year in the league, it’s just that the dreams keep going. Dream now, just like we dreamed before, and let’s hope the story has a happy ending,” said Berisha.