In the end the best team of the season claimed the Hyundai A-League’s ultimate prize, but Brisbane Roar were pushed all the way by the Central Coast Mariners in front of 50,168 spectators at Suncorp Stadium today.
Goalkeeper Michael Theoklitos was the hero, saving two penalties in the shootout after the game finished two apiece after extra time in what was easily the best Grand Final to date.
Extra time goals from Adam Kwasnik and Oliver Bozanic were cancelled out by dramatic late strikes from Henrique and Erik Paartalu before Theoklitos took centre stage, consigning the Mariners to their third final defeat in six seasons.
Central Coast were dealt a blow leading into the game when playmaker Patricio Perez failed a fitness test so he was replaced in the starting eleven by 17 year old Mustafa Amini who is set to join Bayern Munich on trial in the coming weeks.
The Roar, unbeaten in 27 games going into the final, made a bright start and looked to have gotten behind the Mariners defence as early as the first minute but Thomas Broich was incorrectly flagged offside.
Central Coast’s first chance came on seven minutes when Alex Wilkinson picked up a loose corner and crossed into the area where Kwasnik headed just wide. At the other end, Barbarouses shot straight at Ryan on 18 minutes while Milan Susak rose high to meet a Broich corner but failed to hit the target with a header.
The game continued to flow from end to end at a high tempo, and Kwasnik spotted Theoklitos off his line from 40 yards but his audacious effort landed on the roof of the net. The striker was looking lively and minutes later he put in an excellent cross that Simon could only screw harmlessly wide.
On 36 minutes Ryan failed to gather another Broich corner and the ball broke to Mitch Nichols but his volley thundered off the crossbar and rebounded to safety.
The second started with a typical Queensland downpour as the sky opened up and players struggled to keep their feet early on. One man who had no problems staying upright was Ryan, standing tall to block and drive from Solorzano on 49 minutes.
The Roar began to pile on the pressure, forcing a number of corners, and Erik Paartalu headed just wide of the left hand post. Henrique was introduced in place of Barbarouses, while Central Coast brought on veteran striker Daniel McBreen for the ineffective Simon.
Brisbane continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession in the second half but were unable to beat Ryan, who was in inspired form, and referee Matthew Breeze blew for the end of 90 minutes with the scoreboard untroubled.
The Mariners created the first chance of extra time when substitute Bernie Ibini-Isei was played through but his low drive was well saved by Theoklitos. The same situation arose again two minutes later and again the goalkeeper came out on top, with the Roar custodian then saving the rebound from Kwasnik.
However the passionate crowd at Suncorp were silenced from the resulting corner Pedj Bojic knocked down a corner into the six yard box and Kwasnik was on hand to poke the ball home.
The second goal arrived on 102 minutes as Kwasnik this time turned provider. His initial shot was well smothered by Theoklitos but he showed great awareness to tee up Oliver Bozanic who calmly slotted the ball home.
There were tired legs on a heavy pitch during the second 15 minute period as Central Coast resolutely protected their lead, however Henrique did make them sweat a bit when he finished well to make it 2-1 with four minutes to go.
As the game ticked over into its 120th minute, Brisbane were awarded a corner and finally made one one count as Paartalu headed home. Referee Breeze blew for full time just seconds later, with Mariners boss Graham Arnold looking crestfallen on the sideline.
The first four penalties of the subsequent shootout were all successful before Daniel McBreen’s effort was saved by Theoklitos, who then followed it up with an even better save from Pedj Bojic.
Henrique then stepped up to score the winner and send the packed stadium into raptures.
Brisbane Roar: M Theoklitos, M Smith, S Stefanutto, I Franjic, E Paartalu, K Barbarouses, J C Solorzano, M McKay, M Nichols, T Broich, M Susa.
Subs: A Redmayne, M Murdocca, Henrique, M Mundy, R Visconte.
Central Coast Mariners: M Ryan, J Rose, P Bojic, P Zwaanswijk, R Griffiths, O Bozanic, M McGlinchey, A Wilkinson, M Simon, M Amini, A Kwasnik.
Subs: P Henderson, D McBreen, J Hutchinson, T Sainsbury, B Ibini-Isei.