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FFA defends finals format

4 March 2013-AAP


Winner... Brisbane Roar won the 2012 Grand Final after defeating Perth Glory (Getty)

Football Federation Australia has defended this season's controversial sudden-death A-League finals series which critics say disadvantages the top-two teams.

With four games remaining before the finals it looks certain Western Sydney Wanderers and Central Coast Mariners will occupy first and second spot.

But where in season's past they would have had the advantage of a double chance, a loss in the revamped format means instant elimination.

The FFA has dropped the two-legged major semi-final and the preliminary final and reduced the series from four weeks to three.

Now the top-two clubs sit out the first week of the playoffs and wait to play the winner of third versus sixth and fourth versus fifth in the semis with the winners progressing to the grand final on April 21.

Many have claimed the knock-out format rewards mediocrity as a team which just scrapes into the top six - likely finishing with more losses than wins and as many as 25 points behind the top two after 27 rounds - needs to string just three wins together to be crowned champions.

Mariners coach Graham Arnold has openly criticised the system but A-League boss Damien de Bohun says it's fairer and ensures a broader interest.

"The fact that the top two have a week's rest to start and then go straight into a home semi-final by most measures is a significant advantage," de Bohun told AAP on Monday.

"The way the A-League ladder is right now there's a real interesting discussion about fans staying involved and interested right the way through."

De Bohun conceded the FFA would review the system at the end of the season.

The one thing he says won't happen is eradicating the finals series all together in favour of a European-style system in which the team finishing at the top of the ladder is the champion.

He said while the Premiers' Plate is recognition of a season's worth of excellence, in Australian sport there can be no champion without a grand final.

"If we had the first-past the post system it would be between two teams right now and you'd have fans of the eight other teams losing interest," de Bohun said.

"The reality is, in Australian sport, playing a grand final is the most important day of the year and the winner of the grand final is undoubtedly considered the champions of the league.

"Over the last few years there's been crowds of over 50,000, there's been broadcast audiences of over 300,000. So by every measure it is quite easily the most important day of the year."

Wanderers skipper Michael Beauchamp agrees and says the easiest way to settle the debate about whether the Premiers' Plate is more important than the championship trophy is to win both.

"In Australia we love that grand final atmosphere," he said.

"That's what we've grown up being used to so I don't think it will be changing any time soon.

"So if we win both of those that would be fantastic."

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