Monday, February 19, 2007

Archie all over grand final

The first question international journalists usually ask world record holder Archie Thompson was just how he managed to score 13 times against American Samoa in a 2001 World Cup qualifier. Until now that is.

Thompson won't be too sad about swapping questions regarding one record-breaking goalscoring feat for another following a simply unbelievable individual performance in the A-League grand final over the weekend.

Role models for the two-year-old reinvented Australian league don't come much better than the family-oriented 28-year-old goalscoring machine from Melbourne. But then again, clinical attacking displays don’t either.

Thompson scored five times against a dishevelled Adelaide United outfit in the league's end-of-season showpiece divider, the greatest personal scoring deed ever witnessed in Australian grand final history.

The Victory No.10's first-half hat-trick vanquished any hopes of Adelaide regaining a foothold in the contest after foolish skipper Ross Aloisi, brother of Socceroos striker John, had played Russian roulette with the referee and lost on the half-hour.

He even had time to crash another fearsome attempt against the bar before beginning an early lap of honour around the Telstra Dome turf when he was substituted for Kristian Sarkies minutes from the climax.

Sarkies duly stole some of the man-of-the-match's thunder by adding the sixth of a 6-0 rout in stoppage time.

"I want to be on the guest list of every nightclub in Melbourne," Thompson proclaimed at the final whistle with little danger of his request being refused after his five-star showing had lit up a record-breaking 55,436 crowd.

The headline in local Melbourne broadsheet The Age took a more sacrosanct approach: "And after five goals, he rested, and they praised him."

What's unusual, though, is those dishing out the acclaim. Even The Australian's award-winning sports writer Patrick Smith was won over by the fantastical support shown from both clubs in an attendance which shattered the previous domestic record by more than 5000.

"A game that was dead two years ago has been resurrected," wrote Smith, a passionate supporter of Australian Rules Football (AFL). "It has a new face and new fans. A club that is just two years old has a passion to match a century of tradition."

"If football's resurrection was hard to fathom before the game, it wasn't at that very moment," he added of Melbourne's fourth goal when Thompson rounded goalkeeper Daniel Beltrame from Fred's through ball.

There will always be a small section of scared AFL devotees who attempt to correlate football's chanting and letting off flares with hooliganism. But perhaps Smith's sentiments are indicative of the changing attributes in and around AFL-dominated Melbourne.

What's more, the numbers back up his thoughts. The near-capacity attendance was not just the biggest in football history, it was also the largest crowd ever at the Telstra Dome, a stadium used primarily for AFL.

The game was also beamed back live to Sky Sports in Britain for the first time with highlights available in the US and beyond.

Perhaps the host broadcaster's only disappointment will be the nature of the lopsided contest in which Adelaide looked beaten even before Aloisi's reckless second bookable offence in a midfield battleground he was never close to controlling.

Aloisi and another former Socceroo Carl Veart lambasted the officiating in the aftermath after a couple of borderline judgements had certainly gone Melbourne's way.

But the difference wasn't the refereeing, it was Thompson. For him, American Samoa is now history.

"It's unbelievable. I predicted this morning I would get a hat-trick. I always say that and it never happens - what do you know, in a grand final I don't just get three, I get five."

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

Australian Soccer News

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