Soccer: Rojas' exit a blow but NZ interest in finals strong

By Terry Maddaford

Marco Rojas. Photo / Getty Images
Marco Rojas. Photo / Getty Images

Good and bad news for New Zealand Football heading into the last two matches of the A-League season.

The positive is the assurance there will be a New Zealand presence in both matches but any hype surrounding the preliminary and then grand final is tempered by the news young star Marco Rojas is to leave the Wellington Phoenix for Melbourne Victory.

Victory have beaten Adelaide United and the Phoenix in signing Rojas - a move seen as a real kick in the teeth for the Yellow Fever supporters club who paid for the scholarship which got him on to the Phoenix roster.

Many in and around the club felt the 19-year-old would be better suited to another season at the Phoenix where he would be guaranteed regular play and with further opportunities to impress coach Ricki Herbert, thereby enhancing his prospects of an All Whites call-up.

Instead he will, apparently on the advice of his father/agent, take his chance under Scot-turned-Australian coach Ernie Merrick in Melbourne. Rojas' hopes of a start with his new club might have been enhanced by Mate Dugandzic's departure and Robbie Kruse's apparent move but there will be no guarantees at AAMI Park.

The Victory are at least in the upcoming AFC Champions League after reaching last season's grand final losing to Sydney FC on penalties.

Like the Phoenix, the Victory bowed out in week one of this season's play-offs beaten 1-0 by Gold Coast United who now eye an all-Queensland final if they beat Central Coast Mariners in Saturday's preliminary final at Bluetongue Stadium.

All Whites Glen Moss and Shane Smeltz, who scored twice in Sunday night's 3-2 away win over Adelaide United in the elimination semifinal, will play for Gold Coast while fellow international Michael McGlinchey suits up for the Mariners.

Waiting for them in the March 13 final at Suncorp Stadium will be Kosta Barbarouses who, like Rojas, left the Phoenix to cross the Tasman.

Other players with New Zealand connections remain. Zenon Caravella, who played for Waitakere United in the old NZFC, is with Gold Coast while Adam Kwasnik, at the Phoenix a couple of seasons ago, is with the Mariners.

The final at Suncorp will attract a huge crowd but probably nothing like the 44,500 at last year's final at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium.

Should his team make it an all-Queensland final, Gold Coast coach Miron Bleiberg is adamant there will be no repeat of the 4-0 demolition handed out by the Roar when the two teams last met in mid-January.

"I'll tell you what, I'm dying to meet the Roar in the grand final," Bleiberg said. "It will not be 4-0 I can tell you."

A jubilant Bleiberg said Adelaide are a better side than Gold Coast when at their best, but said his side showed character to come from behind.

"I'm very proud of the boys and we all should be proud," he said.

- NZ Herald

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