Sydney FC 'no more physical than usual'

January 25, 2008
By Philip Henderson

Sydney FC captain Tony Popovic has denied his side used rough house tactics to unsettle Queensland's young stars in the opening leg of the A-League minor semi-final.

The Roar head home to Brisbane today - and the second leg at Suncorp Stadium on February 8 - with a 0-0 draw and arguably the more bruises after a physical opening to the final series at the Sydney Football Stadium on Friday.

Queensland teenager Michael Zullo in particular copped his fair share of bumps in his finals debut - including an off the ball incident involving Iain Fyfe which may come under review from the FFA.

But Popovic, who also sent Zullo flying to the turf early in the first half while running back to his position in defence, denied Sydney played any more physical than usual.

"No, not really, we just defended and played like we always do, strong and hard," said the former Socceroo.

"It worked well and we created a lot of opportunities in the second half."

Roar coach Frank Farina bit his tongue when asked after the match if he thought Zullo was targeted, but could not disguise his disappointment at the way Sydney defended his young charge and fellow 19-year-old attacker Robbie Kruse.

"All I'll say is every time Zullo or Kruse played the ball past the defenders they were fouled. Consistently," Farina said.

"That's about all I can say."

Farina, though, was pleased with how his young charges handled the situation.

"They were alright. Michael's learning, so is Robbie, so is Tahj (Minnieconn) and young Mitch (Nicols)," Farina said.

"It's a good learning curve, games like that in a finals series, and they'll benefit from that irrespective of what happens in the second tie, but they've got to go through that to become better players."

Still, it was not all one-way traffic in the physical stakes.

Pint-sized Sydney star Juninho also copped a few knocks - most notably from Craig Moore early, and then Josh McCloughan in the second half - with each club having three players shown yellow cards.

Sydney may yet pay the biggest price with midfielder Robbie Middleby undergoing scans today after suffering a hamstring strain which could have him in doubt for the return leg.

FC boss John Kosmina, though, was adamant his side would stave off elimination and progress to the preliminary final if they matched their first-leg performance in two weeks time.

He also furthered the war of words with former Socceroos teammate Farina by claiming the Roar had more to worry about after the scoreless stalemate.

"We made chances, we play like that in Queensland and we run over the top of them again, and one of those shots will go into the back of the net I can guarantee," Kosmina said.

"Queensland have got more to worry about than us, they couldn't break us down, we opened them up quite a few times and got into some really good areas."

Asked what his side would have to do differently at Suncorp, Kosmina replied: "Not much.

"Provided we defend the way we defended (in the first leg).

"We realise our strengths and weaknesses, we're never going to match Queensland for pace and energy in the middle of the park but provided we're smart and get people in the right areas, they're not going to break us down.

"They're like the Eveready battery, they bounce all over the place. We're more like Duracell, we last a bit longer."