Jaliens a star of City's 'improbables'

At a packed Etihad Stadium on Friday night, two teams will line up for kick-off knowing the Hyundai A-League Grand Final is close enough to touch.

The respective circumstances surrounding their march to near-glory could not be more different.

Melbourne Victory always intended to be there. They planned, prepared, recruited and trained to do so. Was it ever in doubt? 

Bluffer's guide to Hyundai A-League Semi Finals

It will be their third successive semi-final and they go into the game with the Premiers' Plate safely locked in the trophy cabinet, back where it belongs, or so they'd claim.

It's been a very different road for Melbourne City FC. Of this weekend's possible starting XI, very few would have expected to find themselves contesting an Hyundai A-League semi-final in a white and sky blue shirt.

When pre-season began, Tando Velaphi was the understudy to first-choice goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne. On Friday he will start. 

Melbourne City players celebrate Josh Kennedy's opener against the Phoenix.
  Jack Clisby, in doubt for this game with an ankle injury, was getting ready for a doomed assault on the title with Perth Glory before jumping ship mid-term.    Connor Chapman was fighting glandular fever and months away from a return to action but is now first-choice at centre-back, while Robi Koren spent the first half of his first season in Australia getting to know the club physio.    In October City had David Villa and Damien Duff to call upon. The former has long since departed, the latter will be cheering from the sidelines, on crutches.   Eight months ago Josh Kennedy was struggling with his own injury woes and preparing to say goodbye to Nagoya Grampus. Dreams of glory were very far away indeed.   His fellow forward Harry Novillo began the season on the other side of the world in France's Ligue 2 and, after walking out on Clermont, looked set to end it in limbo before John van 't Schip came calling.   Paulo Retre, a fringe player who started and finished the elimination final against Wellington Phoenix, and Jonatan Germano, written off due to his injury woes but a revelation in midfield and defence in recent weeks, are two more members of City's 'improbables'.   
Melbourne City players celebrate their win over the Jets in Round 21.
  But surely the most unlikely transformation in fortunes has been experienced by Kew Jaliens. In August the former Netherlands international was named Newcastle Jets captain for the 2014-15 season. In November, playing at right-back, he was torn apart in a shambolic display at home to a rampant Brisbane Roar, a performance so bad it appeared almost fatal. By January he was out of the door at Hunter Stadium, part of a group of rebels culled by head coach Phil Stubbins following a player revolt.   That could well have been the end of his Hyundai A-League career, instead he was handed a lifeline by Van 't Schip and has rewarded his countryman handsomely, producing some of his best performances in Australia to date during City's run to the last four.   Of all the unlikely heroes carrying the hopes of City supporters this weekend, the 36-year-old, a man who has pulled on that famous orange shirt and faced the might of Argentina in the cauldron of a FIFA World Cup, is perhaps best-placed to explain the vagaries of the beautiful game.   "In Holland you say, 'soccer can change in one day.' From bad to worse or the other way around. For me, from being in Newcastle and in an awkward situation to being in Melbourne and now being part of this, that's just awesome.   "This is the reason why I came to Australia. When I first joined the Jets the focus was to make it to the playoffs. We didn't make it in these two years, so for me, being here in Melbourne, making it to the playoffs and playing a semi-final – that's the reason why you play."  
Melbourne City's Kew Jaliens acrobatically kicks the ball away from Bruce Djite.
  The veteran defender also delivered a message that will surely strike a worrying chord with Victory supporters, who have grown accustomed to watching their team struggle to assert their dominance in derby matches.   "For them, ending on top, that brings expectations and pressure," he said.   "We will go in as the underdog and be free to play."   That freedom could yet equip City to produce the biggest upset in Hyundai A-League history. The stage is set.   
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