IBWM are racking up the air miles. We even had a man at the A-League Grand Final, you know. Welcome to IBWM, Vítor Sobral.
There’s three minutes left in extra time but Brisbane Roar’s dream of capping off a scintillating season with a Grand Final win on home soil appears over. Like Hungary in 1954 or Holland in 1974 the Roar have swept all before them, going on a twenty-seven match unbeaten run in the process, a new Australian record. But the incredible run is about to end with Central Coast Mariners 2-0 up; just like Hungary and Holland they are about to fall at the final hurdle...until...
In the 117th minute a little Brazilian nicknamed the ‘slippery fish’ made his way into the box and managed to hit his shot with enough force to carry it through the hands of Mariners’ eighteen year-old goalkeeper Matt Ryan. Suddenly belief rains down on Suncorp Stadium like the second-half deluge. Upwards of 50,000 fans, most of whom are draped in Roar Orange, shuffle to the edge of their seats. “They’ve done it before, why can’t they do it again,” they were thinking.
Hundreds that had given up and were making their way up to the train and bus stations came running back, belief has taken over them too. The remaining seconds are frantic, but the Roar never deviate from their short passing philosophy. There’s 119 minutes and 30 seconds on the clock, referee Matthew Breeze points to the corner flag. Brisbane Goalkeeper Michael Theoklitos looks to the bench awaiting confirmation to go forward, but the coaching staff are too fixated with towering central midfielder Erik Paartalu to notice.
The twenty-four year-old had returned this season from Scotland, where he’d gone largely unnoticed with spells at Gretna and Greenock Morton. Paartalu’s presence and precise passing from central midfield had contributed greatly to the Roar’s stunning season, but the bench was hoping for one last piece of brilliance from the gentle giant, who tops out at over six feet.
The corner was swung in perfectly and the 50,000 jumped to their feet in unison. All they could see was Paartallu’s bright blonde hair tower above all others. It struck his head and the next moment the net bulged. If it wasn’t held down by the wonders of modern engineering the roof of Suncorp Stadium would have rocketed into the night sky. Local boy and Roar Captain Matt McKay, who had been a teenager in the stands when a Brisbane team last won an Australia title, spread his arms and looked to the heavens, in a mixture of disbelief and unbridled joy.
The miracle of Brisbane was achieved but there was still a shoot-out to come. Brisbane now had the momentum and a passionate and vocal home support behind them. Theoklitos, who conceded seven goals in a disastrous debut at Norwich City, was supremely confident he could finally put that nightmare to rest by becoming the hero of the shoot-out. Daniel McBreen and Pedj Bojic both struck measured penalties but an outstretched Theoklitos denied them both. It was down to the ‘slippery fish’, Henrique. If he scored, one of the most remarkable comebacks in Australian sporting history would be complete. The Brazilian nestled it perfectly in the corner.
Destiny was fulfilled, Brisbane Roar were A-League Champions and the worthiest of them all. Coach Ange Postecoglu was the mastermind behind the Roar’s magnificent season. He built a squad on the principles of Soccernomics, bringing together young ambitious players who work as a unit in attack and defence. Postecoglu’s philosophy is based on the high tempo, high intensity, possession hungry model pioneered by Arsenal and Barcelona; in fact the forty-five year-old had spent time watching and learning at Arsenal before taking over at Brisbane.
Postecoglu is now in demand and a move back to his hometown of Melbourne or perhaps even Asia or Europe is not of the question. If he does stay in Brisbane more success is almost certain to follow, but few will forget what this team achieved not only in a thrilling Grand Final but during a record-breaking season. Postecoglu has received many plaudits for what’s he done throughout the year, including coach of the season, but perhaps the biggest prize of all was a banner at Suncorp Stadium which read, “Thanks Ange for giving us Roarcelona”.
Vítor is a journalist at SBS, where he works on The World Game.