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The case for simultaneous finals

by Ben Somerford on Mar 21, 2012

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When Graham Arnold brought up the topic of simultaneous kickoffs for final round matches he said he risked being branded a “whinger” but, to be fair, he made a good point.

Indeed, the final regular season round of the 2011-12 A-League is fast approaching and we've got games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (three on the latter day, all at different kickoff times).

Arnold said at the press conference after Saturday's 1-0 win over Adelaide: “I'll probably get in trouble for whingeing again but I think all games should be played at the same time in the last round. Everywhere in the world that happens. The last round of the competition [should be] all at the same time.”

Personally, I hate that argument, 'it happens everywhere else in the world, therefore we should follow'. There needs to be logic behind it, rather than blind faith in the footballing Mecca that is Europe.

The reality is, though, European leagues do it because it makes sense in the interests of fair play. The World Cup does the same too, with all final group games kicking off simultaneously. You may even remember, the Asian World Cup qualifiers did a similar thing too, with Australia's clash with Saudi Arabia kicking off at the late timeslot of 8.30pm in Melbourne, to coincide with a 2.30pm kickoff in Muscat as Oman hosted Thailand.

The point of all this is to ensure teams don't get an unfair advantage.

Sunday's Premier's Plate race, which is between Central Coast and Brisbane, may not illustrate this point simply because both teams know they need to win.

So instead I'll turn to the race for third, which is in all seriousness rather important, despite what some may say. The battle for third is between Perth Glory and Wellington Phoenix. Both have booked a home final, so you may ask 'why third is so important?'

The reality is, given their respective home records, you'd expect both sides to win their opening finals, meaning they'd progress to week two of the playoffs, where the higher-ranked side gets home advantage. Now you start to realise why it's important considering their geographical separation. Avoiding a long trip and enjoying home ground advantage will, in my opinion, be decisive in week two.

So returning to the original point on the unfairness of the current final round kickoff system; Perth and Wellington are currently equal on points and goal difference. Glory only have an advantage because of 'goals for', so this one is mighty tight and any advantage will be important.

The problem for Perth is they play Melbourne Victory on Saturday night, while Wellington host Central Coast on Sunday. The Nix will know exactly what's required of them before kickoff. There's no doubt that is an advantage for the Kiwis, any way you look at it.

This is something which comes up every season, but the obvious rebuttal is Fox Sports. It takes no genius to realise five games all at once won't get anywhere near the same number of aggregate viewers than five games over the course of the weekend. That's fair. Fox pays a lot for football, so we should appreciate their support.

So what's the solution? A look around at rival codes provides an answer. A floating final round fixture whereby the FFA decides who'll play where and when only a few weeks in advance of the final round based on current table positions.

It's worth noting we got a taste of simultaneous kickoffs last Saturday with two games on at once, which I found intriguing viewing (but problematic in my attempts to cover two games at once). The point here is not all five games necessarily need to be played simultaneously.

Only the games which affect one another need to be played simultaneously in the interests of fair play and the integrity of the competition (which really should be of the utmost concern for the FFA).

Indeed, the Sydney-Jets game doesn't need to be on Sunday as that game only matters to the two teams involved, but Perth's clash with Victory should be on the same day as Wellington's match against the Mariners which needs to be on the same day as the Roar's clash with Gold Coast (okay, it's just got a bit confusing, but give it a chance, it'll make sense).

And once again that's all in the interests of fair play and the integrity of the competition.