Western Sydney Wanderers win league
14 April ~ In Australia's A-League the Western Sydney Wanderers set a benchmark unlikely to be repeated anytime soon – finishing first in a debut season. The team's surprise success of has been one of Australia's few positive sports stories of late. There have been petulant cricketers, childish swimmers and, even more alarmingly, rugby players on drugs. And we hardly won a thing at the Olympics – a meagre seven golds and 35 medals overall leaving us tenth in the medal table – leading to the sudden lionisation of our gold-medal winning yachtsmen.
The Wanderers squad assembled by coach Tony Popovic, a former captain of Crystal Palace, took a while to find their feet – hardly surprising for a squad mostly made up of rejects and journeymen who were given just three months to gel. But early talk that they would struggle (they lost three of their first five matches) was soon put to rest as the team charged to the top of the table with a new league record ten straight wins.
Popovic's hastily assembled troop isn't entirely without big names. But of the A-League's three major signings this season – Alessandro del Piero (Sydney FC), Emile Heskey (Newcastle Jets) and the Wanderers' Shinji Ono – few expected the 33-year-old Japanese midfielder to come out on top. Del Piero scored a club record number of goals this season but, like Heskey, failed to lift his team into the finals.
That's quite an underachievement for a competition that rewards six of its ten teams with a spot in the finals. Meanwhile, Ono and his team-mates won the Premiership, for finishing on top of the table in the regular season, and are now preparing for the Championship final (it's an Australian thing) having beaten Brisbane Roar in the semi-final on Friday.
Western Sydney's opponents may worry about what lies ahead for them next season, with Popovic saying his team has a lot more room to improve. "Once this group has been together a little bit longer and had a full pre-season together our football should improve even more next year.'' Jack Kerr