It has taken just one season for fervent Western Sydney Wanderers fans to turn Parramatta Stadium into one of the most intimidating venues for visiting sides in Australian football.
The chants are deafening and, on occasion, so is the silence. The colours are ubiquitous and the European-style atmosphere has buried a host of sides, with the Wanderers winning four and drawing one of their past five in the west.
Add it all together and Brisbane striker Besart Berisha could scarcely be more at home. Nothing fuels the Albanian goalsneak’s lust for scoring like a torrent of disdain pouring from the stands. The man the league loves to hate – and one the Roar wouldn’t trade for quids – can expect that much and more on Friday night in the sudden-death A-League semi-final.
A 12-match undefeated streak and an injury query over Brisbane’s key man Thomas Broich, who will play despite a heel injury, has the Wanderers firm favourites to move into the grand final after winning the league in their debut campaign.
In the way are the Roar, a side that has won the past two A-League grand finals, arriving in Sydney on a hot streak and backing their sudden-death experience over a Wanderers side resuming from a two-week break.
The night seems tailor-made for Berisha. He was front and centre in last season’s grand final, going down in the box in what remains the most controversial penalty in A-League history.
With the spring back in his step and having rekindled his touch in the front third, Berisha could be the curse of the Wanderers. ”He’s got that big-match mentality. He’s been there and done it. He lives for it,” Roar coach Mike Mulvey said.
Mulvey wants his team to soak up the atmosphere. ”The most important thing I’ll be telling my players is, ‘Be in the moment. Live in the moment, don’t wait for it to pass you by.’ If we do that as a complete 11, it should lead to a good performance, and if that is good enough on the night, we’ll find ourself in the final,” he said.
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