Classy foes leave Sky Blues green with envy

It would be too simple to label Saturday night's Big Blue as a case of contenders against pretenders. That feeling, however, was the only one you could draw at the final whistle.

Sydney came south full of promise, on the back of two wins propelling them into finals contention, while Melbourne Victory spotted an opportunity to seize a top-two berth.

Though the Sky Blues should have been bouncing with belief, they merely bounced off the Victory. It wasn't even a contest. One side has learned to play football that matches elegance with efficiency; the other only wishes they could.

The sellout crowd didn't just come to see Victory waltz to the final whistle, however. They wanted to see Alessandro Del Piero in the flesh, and put on a show. When his name was introduced, even a few Victory fans felt compelled to applaud. Pinturicchio has that kind of effect.

But the pressure of showmanship is great, even for the greatest. Efforts to impress the Juventus, Sydney and neutral fans ended in disappointment.

Unfortunately, the harder he tried, the more things came undone. He was marked out of the game by Victory's combative midfield trio, Mark Milligan, Leigh Broxham and the excellent Billy Celeski.

Sydney's plan to halt the Victory passing game was evident in the first 90 seconds. Joel Griffiths charged down Adrian Leijer with venom, giving away a foul. When the ball was played out to Milligan, Griffiths delivered a driving shoulder charge.

That was as good as the visitors would get in the first half - a far cry from the ease with which they carved up Wellington last week.

Instead, Melbourne created everything. Wherever they assumed possession, they strung together passes that made the transition from defence look like child's play.

In a nutshell, that's why Ange Postecoglou is the best manager in the league. They're playing almost - not quite exactly - how he wants them to play. Give it another year.

At the other end, Del Piero stood as a spectator, reduced to hoping for the occasional counter-attack. Whenever he did get the ball, he could barely breathe, and frequently lost it.

In the 23rd minute, Sydney suffered a nightmare 60 seconds. Socceroos veteran Brett Emerton pulled up lame and hobbled to the bench, his night over and perhaps his next few weeks, too. As Blake Powell waited to take his place, things became worse.

Marco Rojas's ascension to the peak of the local game has been largely on the back of his ability to add end product to his many tricks and flicks. Those qualities all combined to create his opening goal.

Terrified by his pace and change of direction, Tiago Calvano and Seb Ryall showed him acres of space, so the Kiwi Messi let fly from range. Aided by a deflection from Ryall, goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic was beaten.

The goal did little to alter the flow. Melbourne continued to slice through and Del Piero continued to get frustrated. Being beaten by Broxham, one of the league's most unfashionable players, twice in the space of a minute summed up a regrettable evening.

Instead it was Rojas who proved the most skilled, and unpredictable asset. He tormented Sydney's midfield and defence and it was no surprise when they resorted to the by-any-means-necessary approach to stop him and his teammates.

That had dire consequences, however, when Calvano blocked Broxham, earning his second yellow card. It was perhaps a little unlucky but it seemed only a matter of time before referee Chris Beath produced a red anyway.

Seconds after Griffiths squandered a rare chance to level the game, Marcos Flores and Celeski combined to find Archie Thompson in space and he neatly tucked the ball home in the 67th minute. Rojas then grabbed another, of course.

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