Friends face off for grand final showdown
IN 1991 they were teammates in the Young Socceroos at a World Cup, and two years ago they were playing together for fun in an O35s team in northwest Sydney.
No wonder the tactical brains behind Sunday's A-League grand final know each other inside out.
For a couple of hours on Monday night Steve Corica and Tony Popovic were able to put this weekend's clash to one side and remember almost 30 years of friendship.
By Sunday evening they will have reverted to being a coach bidding to win his first grand final in four attempts, against a rookie reaching this stage in his first season.
It's an achievement that had the usually guarded Popovic waxing lyrical about Corica.
"He's done an exceptional job, but I'm not surprised, knowing him as long as I have," Popovic said.
"We go way, way back and I've seen how dedicated he's is to his profession, first as an assistant and working his way up.
"He knows the club inside out, he's got an opportunity. He inherited a very good team but you have to put your own stamp on it and obviously his man management skills are fantastic.
"During the game that (relationship) goes away. You concentrate on what you can control and your team. But in the meantime, seeing him was nice, we had a good laugh."
Certainly the grey hair on both shows how long ago was the U20 World Youth championship in which Australia reached the semi-finals.
"At that stage you're just thinking about trying to have a game and enjoying football as a young kid," Popovic said. "It was only a year or two ago we were both playing together in Blacktown for the O35s. That's how much we know each other."
Perth host the grand final as the winners of the Premier's Plate, ensconced in first place since Round Four - one of a series of signals to Popovic that the team he had only just assembled could be title contenders.
"I think when we beat Melbourne Victory in round two, when they came back and we scored a late goal, maybe showed where the group had come," he said.
"It was an away game, it was always a problem for us away games in the past. But along the way when you think, 'OK let's see if they can continue with this', the challenges were there.
"From round four we were first and everyone's waiting to see when the stumble will come, when someone will close the gap, when someone will put pressure on us, and they just kept seeing through those challenges and they embraced them, they dealt with them.
"They dealt with another one on Friday night where you have your ups and downs and you get knocked down and they recovered well each time. I know that will put us in good stead for Sunday."