Hyundai A-League set for big start

Melbourne versus Adelaide always gets the blood boiling whenever these two cities clash in a sporting contest. Tonight will be no different when Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United clash in the opening game of Version 2 of the Hyundai A-League at Olympic Park, Melbourne.

Melbourne versus Adelaide always gets the blood boiling whenever these two cities clash in a sporting contest. Tonight will be no different when Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United clash in the opening game of Version 2 of the Hyundai A-League at Olympic Park, Melbourne.

This inter-city rivalry is one of the most passionate in the country, spanned through many years of AFL and transfixed through many other sporting arena-s including our very own Hyundai A-League.

In front of an expected full house at Olympic Park, Melbourne will be looking to end its poor record against last season-s inaugural Premiers. In seven meetings between the two teams (including practice matches), Melbourne has the unenviable record of not scoring a single goal.

It-s becoming a bit of an issue for Melbourne, who in their last meeting completely dominated their South Australian rival, but the all-important goal never came and they ended up losing to a late goal.

Matches between the two have always been close and fiercely fought, with quarter given by either side and tonight-s match will be no exception.

Melbourne was also the competitions biggest under-achievers last season and they are desperate to turn that around, especially their home form, where they received tremendous support.

A fair bit has changed in the off-season for the home side and Ernie Merrick will feature five of his six new faces in the squad in this match. Most notably is the Brazilian trio of Fred, Claudinho and Alessandro, who are expected to bring some of that South American flair to the competition. Fred is said to have impressed during pre-season, while in Scotsman Grant Brebner they have a midfield ball-winner with immense experience.

Not much has changed at Adelaide since the finals last season, although their depth looks stronger across the park. New signing Bobby Petta is not included for tonight-s match, but Shengqing Qu and Fernando (Rech) as he now likes to be called, is back after missing most of the Pre-Season-s Cup.

Carl Veart is already looking in good form and has the opportunity to create some history, by being the first player to score the opening goal of the season in consecutive seasons.

They will also be confident after winning the Pre-Season Cup and with last season-s disappointing finals series as a spur, they will no doubt come out firing.

The match kicks-off at 8.00pm and for those unfortunate enough not be at the ground, you can see it all LIVE on Fox Sports 1.

Another huge crowd is expected on Saturday night, with a new-look Queensland Roar looking to get off to a winning start at home against Perth Glory at Suncorp Stadium.

Eight new players are in the 15-man squad for Queensland, including German Marcus Wedau, Scotsman Simon Lynch and key striker Ante Milicic. He will however be without Spase Dilevski (groin) and Yuning Zhang (overseas), who are expected to be regular starting players when they are available.

Coach Miron Bleiberg, who arguably had the most entertaining team in the league last season, will be looking more of the same again, but with a bit more focus on getting results, especially at home. What he has got is more experience in the front third of the pitch and that should ensure a better return in front of goals. If they can create as many scoring opportunities as they did last season there is no reason why a 10-goal better return is achievable this season, which could well be the difference between making the finals or not.

They face a Perth side that has endured a tough pre-season, with injuries and illness meaning Ron Smith has battled to get the cohesion and combinations working in time for its first match against Roar.

Simon Colosimo is welcomed back but he is well underdone in terms of match fitness, while David Micevski and Stan Lazaridis are hopefully over the worst of the flu which laid them low for several weeks.

Smith still has quite a number of key starting eleven players missing including Jason Petkovic, Bobby Despotovski and Jamie Coyne, but the new-look Glory side should still be fairly competitive as they have shown in pre-season.

A crowd in excess of 20,000 is expected at Suncorp for what should be an entertaining game, with kick-off at 7.00pm. Match can also be viewed LIVE on Fox Sports 2.

Sunday features a terrific double-header with New Zealand Knights taking on Newcastle Jets in Auckland, followed by the Grand Final replay between Sydney FC and Central Coast Mariners at Aussie Stadium.

The Knights have much to prove this season, after last season-s very disappointing campaign. A new coach in Paul Nevin and virtually a complete new squad will be out to show New Zealand fans they will be competitive in this league.

Injuries though have not helped Nevin for this first game of the season with key striker Dani Rodrigues pulling his hamstring last week and is expected to be out for about 3 weeks, while Kiwi international Noah Hickey damaged his knee and will miss 2 weeks.

Welcome news however is the availability of captain and key defender Darren Bazeley and nuggetty striker Sean Devine. Gregory Duruz and Jonas Salley are back into the squad after being rested last week, while Kiwi-s Mark Paston and Che Bunce are back into the first team squad.

With so many new faces will be interesting to see how they gel together, but one thing for sure is they will not be the easybeats that they were last season.

Newcastle is another club that has undergone a lot of changes in the off-season and remains to be seen if they are quite ready for this opening round clash.

They possess a number of highly talented individuals, but the big thing for new coach Nick Theodorakopoulos is getting them to combine to play the fast, free-flowing football that his past teams have been renowned for.

Paul Okon is back in Australia and basically replaces Ned Zelic, while the signing of Joel Griffiths as Ante Milicic-s replacement was shrewd business. His partnership with Kiwi international Vaughan Coveny will be crucial to his teams- chances at North Harbour Stadium.

Is quite a young side, with the key being Nick Carle, playing in more of a playmaker-s role rather than a wide position on the left, which inhibited his natural creative talents across the park.

Match kicks-off at 5.00pm in New Zealand with Fox Sports viewers back in Australia able to watch the match LIVE at 3.00pm (AEST).

The final match is the most interesting as it pits last year-s grand finalists together for the first time since that epic match last March.

Not much has changed, with both squads changing very little in the way of personal, although the Mariners did lose key defenders Michael Beauchamp and Dean Heffernan. However the arrival of Qantas Socceroo Tony Vidmar has helped to alleviate the loss of Beauchamp, while there are big wraps for Vuko Tomasevic, a direct replacement for Heffernan.

Coach Lawrie McKinna has his injury concerns, with striker Nick Mrdja still three weeks away from returning and Matt Osman two weeks away.

Good news though is Tom Pondeljak-s return, most likely to the bench for this all-important clash, and Paul O-Grady returns after missing last week-s Pre-Season Cup Final through suspension.

Mariners were unlucky to lose the Final to Adelaide and rued several missed opportunities, something they can-t afford to do against a well-drilled side like Sydney. The Stewart Petrie and Adam Kwasnik created numerous problems for Adelaide and their mobility will seriously test the Sydney defence.

Sydney meanwhile finished their pre-season campaign with a 2-0 win over the Jets despite resting a host of players that featured in the Socceroos match against Kuwait.

However the biggest news is the return from a groin injury of captain Dwight Yorke, arguably the best player in the competition. With no World Cup distractions, Yorke is set for a big season, although his match fitness will be well down and it would be a surprise to see him play a full game. However he doesn-t need 90 minutes to stamp his authority on a match, as the Mariners know all too well, after last year-s grand final.

Alvin Ceccoli also returns from suspension, while in the likes of David Carney, Steve Corica, Alex Brosque and Sasho Petrovski, Sydney is blessed with some of the most exciting talent in the country.

If both teams bring their A-games, fans at Aussie Stadium should witness a cracker of a game.

Match kicks-off at 5.00pm with a LIVE broadcast on Fox Sports 2.