Coach Popovic confident Shinji will deliver in A-League final
WESTERN Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic believes star midfielder Shinji Ono is ready to produce another stellar performance against the Central Coast Mariners in this Sunday's grand final at Allianz Stadium.
Ono scored one of the great A-League goals against the Brisbane Roar in last Friday night's semi-final, chipping over goalkeeper Michael Theo's head, with the custodian caught unaware.
Commentators even compared that goal to Eric Cantona's special against Sunderland in 1996, with the Frenchman's run from the halfway and subsequent chip into the far-left corner rated the best English Premier League goal of all time.
And the good news for Wanderers fans is that Popovic believes there could be more in store on Sunday.
"Physically he came through very well and he's recovered a lot better than expected," he said of the Japanese star.
"He's got that smile on his face. He doesn't usually say much, but when he's smiling and his body language is good, Shinji's in a good place."
Popovic said it had not only been Ono that had led the way in terms of showing an exemplary attitude for the Premier's Plate winners.
"They're a very grounded group," he said.
"They've handled the expectation and the pressure throughout the year.
"We told them to enjoy the week.
"It's our first grand final, but speaking to people that are a lot more experienced than me at this, you want to cherish the moment and enjoy the lead-up."
Wanderers captain Michael Beauchamp returned the praise on the rookie coach for the wonders he's worked, in arguably the fairytale sports story of 2013 so far.
"It's a massive group effort," he said.
"We work tirelessly on our formation and our defence, and it all comes from his (Popovic's) mind and (assistant coach) Ante Milicic on the sidelines.
"He's done a great job not only with the team as a whole, but with individual players who have stepped up and improved this season."
The Wanderers, $2.35 favourites with Sportingbet to win the championship, are not counting their chickens just yet.
"The Mariners are a quality side," ," Beauchamp said
"I think it's their fourth final in eight years, so they're there for a reason and it's going to be a tough match.
"We've got similar styles of play, and if anything else we'll make a higher-tempo game for them and hopefully cause them some problems."