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A-League grand final, who is the best team in Australia?

It's not the first time you'll hear this argument, and it certainly won't be the last, but Sydney FC's tremendous exploits in the A-League this season will again bring Australia's finals system into sharp focus.
In Australia, you cannot be considered the champion, the country's best, unless you win the big one. The grand final. Your competition's showpiece event.
Now the A-League season comes down to this: one match in which premiers Sydney FC face off against runners-up Melbourne Victory in a heated decider.
And if Sydney FC fluffs its lines at the worst possible time, it will be the biggest showcase of how unjust the finals system is in Australian football's history.
Never before has the A-League had a team so superior to the rest in the regular season. Sydney FC broke a bunch of records en route to lifting the Premiers' Plate — with 66 points from 27 games, it amassed a record points tally, and also broke the record for biggest margin between first and second, sitting 17 points ahead of the Victory.
That dominance came in no small part due to the sensational exploits of Milos Ninkovic, the clear winner of the Johnny Warren Medal, finishing seven votes ahead of his nearest challenger.
Despite all that, Sydney FC must prepare for what essentially boils down to a coin-toss gamble, taking on its oldest rival in the heat of a grand final, to only now be declared Australia's champion.
In the here and now, we can all privately acknowledge Sydney FC is the best in the land, prior to the grand final.
But should Victory pull the rug from under their feet — and they're more than capable of doing it — history won't be kind to the Sky Blues' legacy.
There won't be a giant asterisk next to Melbourne Victory's inscribed name on the trophy, saying they won five fewer matches and endured seven more losses than Sydney.
All we'll remember is that Melbourne Victory won the 2016-17 A-League grand final. And it won't even tell half the story.
Why is a Sydney FC win important for the competition? Because recognition of how good this team was will add cache and credence to the A-League's heritage, knowing we can look back at the honour roll, point to 2016-17, and say "that was a great team".
But Victory fans, assuming they're not so angry to have stopped reading by now, will of course not give a toss about Sydney FC's salty tears if the favourites fall short. Neither will Western Sydney Wanderers fans, for that matter.
Australians love an underdog, so we're told. Remember Leicester City? Everyone loved them and their plucky antics, showing up the big boys in England to win a Premier League title no-one saw coming.
In the scramble to pump out content about the team everyone wanted to know about, Australian media would scratch its head trying to find a comparable story to Leicester from Down Under.
The truth is, there were none to be found. Not one without several caveats, anyway.
The finals system, and the resultant disregard for the regular season, means any shock wins in the decider could be put down to mediocrity peaking at the right time, as much as good fortune or genuine pluck.
Leicester's story was incredible because they won the marathon, not a one-off 100m sprint where the Usain Bolt-type tripped over his feet.
The regular season presents the true test of any team, where the cream ultimately rises to the top.
As far as underdogs go, Melbourne Victory aren't exactly the perfect example. A well-established team with plenty of domestic history and some serious players, they're in the grand final by virtue of being second-best to Sydney FC. Very second-best. Seventeen points behind, seven more losses and five wins fewer second-best.

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