By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY, May 1 (Reuters) - Shinji Ono has arguably had a bigger impact on the pitch in Australia than Alessandro Del Piero over the last two years and he will be looking to bid a triumphant farewell to the A-League in this weekend's "grand final".
The former Japan playmaker's Western Sydney Wanderers take on Brisbane Roar for the league championship in front of a sell-out crowd of 52,000 at Lang Park on Sunday, looking for their first title in only their second season of existence.
Ono was something of a footnote when Italy and Juventus great Del Piero and, to a lesser extent, former England striker Emile Heskey arrived in Australia to great fanfare at the start of last season.
While Del Piero undoubtedly had a major impact on the profile of the league in the fiercely competitive Australian sports market, he was unable to drive Sydney FC to any better than one playoff match over two seasons, which they lost.
After failing to agree a new contract, the 39-year-old Italian left Australia several million dollars the richer on Wednesday but Ono remains to contest the final for a club whose fans have dubbed him simply: "Genius".
Ono is only one element of the fairytale story of Wanderers, who started from scratch last year only to win the Premiers' Plate for finishing top of the table at the end of the season and reaching the A-League playoff final.
They lost that final to Central Coast Mariners but, under coach Tony Popovic and roared on by some of the most passionate fans in the league, have continued their success this term.
"I'm really hungry to get this championship in the grand final because we achieved the premiership in the regular season last year but people just think about the grand final winner," Ono told the Sydney Morning Herald this week.
"I'm very hungry to win the title and of course, I want to leave a memory here."
'HEAVEN OR HELL'
They face a major challenge in the trip to Brisbane, who won back-to-back titles under current Australia coach Ange Postecoglou in 2011 and 2012 and topped the table at the end of this season.
Coach Mike Mulvey's team prizes possession, with German attacking midfielder Thomas Broich providing the ammunition to clinical Albanian striker Besart Berisha in the final third.
Popovic favours a more counter-attacking style but Wanderers will have to be at their very best to claim the title.
Still, they have lost just once in seven meetings with Roar and Ono has shown he is capable of scoring some extraordinary goals in the Wanderers' black and red hoops over the last two years.
One was a beautiful left-footed effort against Roar in last year's playoffs semi-final when he chipped the ball over the goalkeeper into the top corner of the net from the edge of the box.
Western Sydney's success in reaching the last 16 in the Asian Champions League means it will only be a farewell to the domestic competition for 34-year-old former Asian Footballer of the Year Ono.
"They have big confidence but I think we have confidence for just one game to decide for us, heaven or hell," Ono added.
"I want to prepare good for this week and I want to give a hundred percent and show what I have on the pitch." (Editing by Peter Rutherford)
- Sports & Recreation
- Alessandro Del Piero
- Western Sydney Wanderers
- Shinji Ono
- Brisbane Roar