Adelaide United continued their march in the FFA Cup, grinding out a hard fought 1-0 victory against SA NPL side Adelaide Olympic on the weekend. United became the first club to qualify for the quarter-finals of the FFA Cup in 2021.
I wrote a column several weeks ago about how Floreat Athena were one of the NPL teams with the best chances of causing a cup boil-over.
For large periods of Sunday’s match against serial cup winners Adelaide United, Athena was the better team. They created enough chances to win this match.
Athena put up a valiant effort before running out of legs and succumbing to Adelaide’s pressure in extra time, losing the match 3-1.
While most A-League clubs have played multiple trial games, this was Adelaide’s first hit-out of a troubling pre-season that involved the director of football leaving and an independent inquiry into the club’s strength and conditioning program.
Several players were missing with injuries and the four off-season recruits had only been training with the squad for barely two weeks due to the strict COVID border closures for South Australia.
United hopped on the plane to Perth and 3.5 hours later got their first look at E&D Litis Stadium, which was previously a velodrome.
The players were very concerned with how spongy the pitch was due to heavy watering and the swirling winds. A cup upset seemed like it could happen.
However, United struck first when Louis D’Arrigo ghosted in towards the near post to head home a Josh Cavallo cross.
Adelaide’s new-look defence seemed uncomfortable all afternoon when Athena pressed high and were lucky to get away with only a yellow card when the error-prone George Timotheou brought down the impressive Robert Harding, who was clear through on goal.
Athena finally got a much-deserved equaliser after halftime, when the ball fell to Christopher Saldaris, who guided it home from 18 yards out. Saldaris is a rampaging right back who has scored ten goals this season.
Adelaide had a great chance to win it when Mohamed Toure rose high, but his header thumped back against the cross bar.
Athena was starting to tire heading into extra time after a long, gruelling NPL season that saw them finish second and lose the WA top-four cup 6-3 last weekend.
Ben Halloran drove towards Athena’s box and was brought down for a penalty. New interstate recruit George Blackwood dispatched it to give United a 2-1 lead.
Yaya Dukuly then put the icing on the cake with United’s third and final goal with a mazy run into the box and a shot that went through a sea of legs before the player celebrated with his trademark back flips.
For interstate viewers this was there first chance to have a look at some more of the fabled Adelaide youth production line. A trio of talented 17-year-olds made their first-team debuts.
Bernardo started the match after a great season at NPL level and did not look out of his place. He is the son of legendary A-League player Cassio and shares his father’s diminutive stature and ability to dribble past players at pace.
Adelaide have been crying out for a number ten for the better part of a decade and to finally have one so young come through the system is exciting for the club.
Ethan Alagich – the son of another iconic A-League player Richie – came off the bench, as well as Arbi Mollas. Both have been standouts at NPL level this season.
Floreat coach Vas Vujacic can be very proud of his team’s achievement in scaring a highly fancied A-League club.
When the Athena players get out of bed Monday morning, they will have to go to their jobs – some are tradies, some are students and some work in finance.
Their full-time professional opponents Adelaide United will look forward to the luxury of recovery session at the beach.
One of the best things about the FFA Cup is the possibility of A-League teams being knocked out by a team of part timers. Floreat Athena gave a good account of themselves, but we might have to wait until next round to see a cup upset.