Sydney United 58 have clinched the Waratah Cup, it seventh in their rich long history, in an exhilarating match against APIA Leichhardt, with a late extra-time flurry securing a 3-1 victory in a fiery, dramatic game at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday.
After a hotly contested opening eight minutes, Sydney United 58 were presented with the first significant chance of the match.
A pinpoint, visionary pass from Glen Trifiro found the run of Patrick Antelmi in behind.
The striker reached the ball ahead of the onrushing Ivan Necevski, but his touch was slightly too heavy, and the ball rolled awkwardly out for a goalkick.
Beyond United’s chance, it was a quiet, testy opening to the match, reflecting the norm for a cup final.
The match was fiery in nature, with the two rivals not hiding the hate; strong aggression was present from both sides, along with consistent shouting from the two sets of supporters.
It was APIA who began to dominate with the ball after a slow start, keeping possession well and looking sharp in their interplay around the box.
However, Sydney United quickly responded with a period of their own, looking strong and efficient in build-up and moving the ball forwards well.
Every pass was hotly contested, and despite not having a major amount of goalmouth action in the opening 30 minutes, it was an invigorating, intense clash.
APIA’s first real opportunity of the match came on that 30th minute mark, where a corner to the back post from Jack Armson found the towering Paul Galimi, whose header glanced just wide of the near post.
The Premiership winners continued to look threatening off crisp combinations in the final third, as APIA’s forward line looked to take on United’s defence before attempting to find a player with space in or around the edge of the box.
However, it was off a deep cross that APIA found an imperative lead.
A mistake in United’s build-up presented the ball to Sean Symons, who from just off the edge of the area played a looping, magical ball into the onrushing Rory Jordan.
The winger made no mistake from close range, converting the header to give APIA the opening goal of the match with a swift, beautiful attacking move.
However, three minutes later, the games changed majorly.
Sean Symons, who had been booked early on, went in strongly on Hiyori Kawaguchi after a loose touch.
The referee waved advantage, before Yianni Perkatis went in hard on Jack Armson, picking up a booking of his own.
However, the drama wasn’t finished, as the referee walked over to Symons and showed him the yellow card, before brandishing the forward with a red to minimise APIA to ten men.
But the red card didn’t affect the performance of APIA in the immediate aftermath.
In the 42nd minute, space opened up for Jack Stewart on the right flank, and Rory Jordan found him with a stupendous left-footed pass.
The threatening winger drove in behind, and cut inside onto his left foot, before sensationally rattling the crossbar with a thunderous strike.
The drama continued in what had become a miraculously entertaining, compelling first-half, as Sydney United drew level just before the halftime whistle.
A long throw into the penalty box found the feet of Trifiro, and Antelmi purposefully latched onto his touch from close range.
The striker cleverly squared the ball to the free Leroy Jennings, who passed the ball into an open net to crucially equalise scores.
Pandemonium instantly ensued, with Joshua Symons holding onto the ball and not allowing United to take it back to halfway, and UFC 293 quickly had a fellow competitor in Sydney.
Both Symons and Antelmi were booked for causing chaos, and the halftime whistle was sounded minutes later to a highly hostile atmosphere at Leichhardt Oval.
APIA began the second half in a different structure, operating with a back three as opposed to their usual 4-2-3-1.
Themba Muata-Marlow was substituted on and joined Yianni Nicolaou and Paul Galimi in a back three, with J. Symons moving into midfield alongside Adrian Ucchino and Franco Farinella, with the latter operating further forwards; the front three saw Jack Stewart on the right, Jack Armson through the middle and Rory Jordan on the left.
It looked to be an inspired tweak from Franco Parisi and his coaching staff, as APIA dominated the opening stages of the second half despite the player disadvantage.
In the 55th minute, it was still APIA who were controlling possession and looking more threatening, as a long-ranged, laced left-footed effort from Jack Stewart drove just wide of the far post.
They were playing with the utmost of tactical bravery, going man-on-man against United’s front three, and were reaping the rewards.
However, crucially, the benefits didn’t extend to the score sheet.
Upon Jason Romero’s introduction – for central defender turned defensive midfielder Joshua Symons – Farinella joined Ucchino in midfield, with Armson moving to a number 10 role ahead, another bold, positive move from Parisi.
Sydney United 58 continued to threaten, and weren’t a significant second best, but performance wise, did not look like the side playing with an extra man.
While United began to collect more possession, but struggled to create any real chances in what was a strangely subdued second half.
They had a few openings for long shots, but nothing of true substance against APIA’s daring system, whilst the 10 men saw their energy fade from the beginning of the half, although they remained dangerous on the break.
However, APIA’s defence was left sleeping in the 77th minute, as Antelmi was found free in behind off a throw in, but the striker couldn’t convert in a one on one on an acute angle with Necevski.
The tension was growing inside Leichhardt Oval, as both sets of fans watched on with increasing edge – an explosion was brewing.
That moment looked to be in the 85th minute, as a clever, clipped ball from Trifiro released Taisei Kaneko in a central position in behind.
The winger scared the ball elegantly to Antelmi, who was left in a straight one on one against the onrushing Necevski.
The goalkeeper made an exceptional stop, but the ball presented itself to the striker on the rebound.
Antelmi instinctively shot with the goal gaping but couldn’t find the back of the net in a stunning phase of play.
The chances were opening up for United, as a heroic recovering tackle from substitute Dakota Askew prevented Kaneko from stealing in behind in the box, in what would have been a one on one against the stranded Necevski.
With the introduction of Anthony Sparacino in the 89th minute, APIA reverted to a back four, to try and cut the consistent chance creation of United.
United were presented with one final chance off a scramble inside the box, but APIA managed to escape the concession, and the match rolled dramatically into extra time.
Early into the first period of extra time, a close range Trifiro free-kick went close to finding the breakthrough for United – the midfielder had been shooting from range consistently throughout the match.
While United were understandably controlling possession, space was openin on counter-attacks for APIA, and they were ever so close to finding the lead from an attacking transition in the 100th minute.
A fantastic pass from Stewart saw Romero in a threatening position on the left after a good breakup from Farinella, and the forward advanced in on goal.
Cutting inside, he was presented with an opportunity to find the target, but lashed the ball over the crossbar from close range.
Minutes later, Nicolaou was presented with a good chance in an indirect one on one against Charles Samushonga after excellent persistence and dribbling from Stewart, but the right-back also aired his shot high over the crossbar from inside the box just to the right.
But in dramatic style, it was United who got the pivotal moment, as they finally found the back of the net in the final.
A strong run and pass from Matthew Bilic found Devante Clut free in central midfield, and the midfielder played a quick pass out to Alessandro Lacalandra on the right.
The substitute fizzed a low cross into the area and Antelmi nipped in front of his man to toe-poke the ball cleanly past Necevski and into the back of the net.
A minute later, United to secured their victory, capitalising on the energy of their breakthrough goal.
A cross from Lacalandra looped to the backpost after a bright shot from the youngster rebounded back to his path, and the pass accurately found the head of Kaneko.
The winger made no mistake from close range, looping a clinical header into the bottom right corner before wheeling away in jubilation to celebrate with the United faithful.
In additional time of extra time, APIA were presented with an opportunity to gain what could only be a consolation goal, but Muata-Marlow missed the target from close range.
Minutes later, the final whistle sounded, and a dramatic, thrilling match saw United crowned Waratah Cup Champions.
Miro Vlastelica was proud of his team and the performance they put on to clinch the Waratah Cup.
“It was a massive performance, everyone dug deep and you could all see we were low on numbers,” said Vlastelica.
“We went out and played some good football and in the end we got the just reward.”
Meanwhile, APIA coach Franco Parisi was pleased with his side’s character and overall performance despite not ending the evening with the Cup.
“A lot happened this afternoon – we kicked off at 3pm and there’s a lot of moments that came through up until now,” said Parisi.
“There was a lot of good things I was happy with in terms of the character and football, and just the ability that we demonstrated today.
“It’s football, it’s sport; there’s a winner and a loser – I don’t know if it represented the game but Sydney United did what they needed to do to win the match.
“We put on a fantastic performance and I thought there was a lot of character through the adversity that we faced today.”
Waratah Cup Final
Sydney United 58 3 (Jennings 45’, Antelmi 110’, Kaneko 111’)
APIA Leichhardt FC 1 (Jordan 36’)
Sunday 10 September, 2023
Sydney United 58: 4. Adrian Vlastelica (C), 7. Taisei Kaneko, 9. Patrick Antelmi, 11. Yianni Perkatis (15. Tariq Maia 73’), 12. Hiyori Kawaguchi, 14. Andreas Agamemnonos (10. Devante Clut 66’), 16. Ante Bakmaz, 17. Matthew Bilic, 18. Glen Trifiro (19. Ali El-Sabeh 102’), 22. Leroy Jennings (13. Alessandro Lacalandra 66’), 50. Charles Samushonga
Substitutes Not Used: 20. Luke Cukar
Yellow Cards: Perkatis 38’, Vlastelica 44’, Antelmi 45’, Bakmaz 69’
Red Cards: N/A
APIA Leichhardt FC: 1. Ivan Necevski, 3. Paul Galimi (23. Dakota Askew 73’), 4. Joshua Symons (9. Jason Romero 61’), 7. Jack Stewart, 14. Jack Armson, 16. Sean Symons, 17. Rory Jordan, 18. Adrian Ucchino (6. Anthony Sparacino 89’), 21. Michael Kouta (15. Themba Muata-Marlow 45’), 38. Yianni Nicolaou, 98. Franco Farinella (30. Alex Denmead 110’)
Substitutes Not Used:
Yellow Cards: S. Symons 12’, 39’, J. Symons 45’, Denmead 115’
Red Cards: S. Symons 39’
Sydney United 58
- Adrian Vlastelica (C) – 8.5
Vlastelica was consistent throughout the match, dominating from a defensive perspective.
He was rarely caught out and was composed in possession, leading from the back as club captain always giving his 100%.
He was named Player of the Match through his determination he showed in shutting out a number of APIA attacks.
- Taisei Kaneko – 7.5
Kaneko was quiet for the majority of the match but came to life at the end of the 90 minutes with his runs in behind.
It was his clinical header that secured the victory for United.
- Patrick Antelmi – 7
While missing a couple of good chances to give his side the lead, Antelmi did eventually get the go-ahead goal, showcasing his great movement in the box and clinical ability in front of goal.
He was a threat throughout the match.
- Yianni Perkatis – 6.5
Perkatis had a quiet performance, but was solid in midfield, before being substituted in the 73rd minute.
- Hiyori Kawaguchi – 7.5
Kawaguchi was consistently solid throughout the match, coming up against the lively Rory Jordan.
From right-back, he was composed in possession and posed a threat going forwards.
- Andreas Agamemnonos – 6.5
Agamemnonos looked tidy in possession but struggled to get on the ball and dictate play in the overwhelming area of midfield.
He was substituted in the 66th minute.
- Ante Bakmaz – 6.5
Bakmaz was overrun at times in central defence, but it was more a structural than individual issue.
He was composed on the ball and solid at the back.
- Matthew Bilic – 7
Bilic was consistent from left-back, providing good attacking threat and athleticism all round.
- Glen Trifiro – 8
Trifiro was a consistent spark in the United midfield, and the majority of their chances after going a man up came from his long shots.
He was active without the ball and imposing on it.
- Leroy Jennings – 6.5
Jennings got the equaliser for United, but struggled to truly impose himself on the match beyond that, despite showing flashes of quality.
- Charles Samushonga – 7
Samushonga was solid when necessary throughout the match following the concession of the opener.
- Devante Clut – 7
Clut was active upon arrival, and was calm and composed in possession, particularly in the latter stages when United began to truly dominate the match.
- Alessandro Lacalandra – 8
Lacalandra was the decisive substitute, providing two different kinds of crosses which led to two assists and the breakthrough for United.
- Tariq Maia – 6
Maia showed flashes of brilliance and was a solid presence in midfield upon his arrival on the field.
- Ali El-Sabeh – N/A
Substituted on in the 102nd minute.
Substitutes Not Used
- Luke Cukar
- Ivan Necevski – 7
Necevski was solid when called upon, and couldn’t do much about any of the three goals conceded.
- Paul Galimi – 7
Galimi was aggressive in tackles and consistently solid defensively, while providing a sense of composure on the ball.
- Joshua Symons – 7
Symons strongly adapted to a new midfield role in the second half before coming off, and was consistent throughout his playing time.
- Jack Stewart – 7
Stewart was decisive and intrusive when on the ball, but just struggled to find consistent possession with his side a man down.
- Jack Armson – 6.5
Armson was quiet but tidy throughout, as his attacking threat was hindered by the man disadvantage.
- Sean Symons – 5
Symons picked up a beautiful assist for the opening goal of the match, but his performance was hindered by a 39th minute red card.
- Rory Jordan – 7.5
Jordan was consistent in his strong ability on the ball throughout, and scored the opener with a well taken header.
- Adrian Ucchino – 7
Ucchino was composed in possession and aggressive off it, and put on a good performance before being subbed just before the conclusion of the 90 minutes.
- Michael Kouta – 6.5
Kouta was solid throughout the first half but was substituted at halftime due to a system switch from APIA.
- Yianni Nicolaou – 7
Nicalaou offered good bursts of energy down the right and adapted well to being in a back three and a right-back in a back four at different times, showing defensive solidity and control in possession.
- Franco Farinella – 7
Farinella was tidy throughout the match, and the 19-year-old looks very much at home as a starter in the APIA midfield.
- Themba Muata-Marlow – 6
Muata-Marlow was caught out a couple of times after coming on at halftime but was in general his usual self – a true Rolls-Royce of a defender.
- Anthony Sparacino – 6
Sparacino was solid throughout the extra time period.
- Jason Romero – 7
Romero provided good attacking threat through his close control and dribbling ability, but sometimes wasn’t on the same page as his teammates and struggled to affect the game with an end product.
- Dakota Askew – 6
Askew was a vocal leader on the field and was solid in both a back three and four.
- Alex Denmead – N/A
Denmead was a last-gasp substitute from APIA, and with only ten minutes to play didn’t affect the game.
By Jack George (@JackGeorge0004)