Heroic Moments: Selfless strikers place Victory and Adelaide in semis
It seems odd to recall that one of Ola Toivonen’s first contributions in Melbourne Victory colours was to downplay his own ability as an accomplished finisher.
That would not have necessarily been music to the ears of Victory fans pondering how boss Kevin Muscat planned to use their star marquee recruit to replace the goals of firm favourite Besart Berisha.
But there is little doubt after Friday’s 3-1 Elimination Final win over Wellington Phoenix that Muscat’s 1.91-metre-tall Swedish battering ram can bear the weight and expectation of Victory’s title defence.
After all, this is a player who shone on the 2018 FIFA World Cup stage with Sweden, has played in the English Premier League and boasts more than 200 combined appearances in Ligue 1 and the Eredivisie.
There were even shades of his showpiece World Cup goal against Germany – a delicious lob over goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in a Group F clash – in Toivonen’s perfectly measured chip over Wellington Phoenix stopper Filip Kurto at AAMI Park.
The 32-year-old now has 14 goals from 19 starts in 2018/19. Not a bad total for a man who does not call himself a goal scorer, and a tally which puts him equal with Besart Berisha’s 2017/18 return.
And while the former PSV, Toulouse and Sunderland man is more of a selfless attacker than Berisha, he is no less of an assassin in front of goal when afforded the opportunity.
“I am not really a goal scorer, but I like to put other players in good positions,” Toivonen told the Sydney Morning Herald after the game.
Victory are now in a great position to defend their championship, with a Big Blue semi-final against Sydney FC to come on Sunday.
Diawara gives Adelaide the X-factor
Adelaide United have been gathering momentum at just the right time, and a large part of that is down to the late-season return of Baba Diawara.
Having undergone keyhole surgery to his knee in December, the Senegalese striker is doing his best to put an injury-plagued campaign behind him.
He has completed just 88 minutes of action in 2018/19, but managed to find the net against Brisbane Roar in the final game of the regular season, and was on hand to tee up Ben Halloran's extra-time match-winner in Sunday's 1-0 Elimination Final win over Melbourne City.
The 31-year-old looks like the focal point that Marco Kurz has been searching for all season, but the German coach says he needs to manage the striker carefully.
“It’s good to stay realistic," Kurz said.
“I’m happy that he’s back, that he’s fit to help us. Baba is not in good enough shape for 90 minutes, but today was 50 minutes – a new record for Baba!”
However long he is able to play his part, Diawara will be keen to make his mark as Adelaide travel to Perth for Friday's showdown at HBF Park.