The more things change the more they stay the same. After what has been a wildly unpredictable return to football in 2022, two familiar foes meet once again.
South Melbourne FC and Calder United SC get ready to lock horns in the Nike F.C. Cup final in a blockbuster rematch of what was the curtain call for Victorian Football in 2021.
In this, the 10th iteration of tournament, a record 89 teams went into battle in search of the prestigious trophy. Left standing are the two most successful teams in Victoria over the past decade.
Calder United are out to build on their historic record in the tournament. Victory on Sunday would make the side from Melbourne’s North West champions for an unprecedented fifth year in a row.
With Mark Torcaso at the helm, the Calder have amassed 26 wins and just one loss since their debut in the competition. Aside from 2003, South Melbourne will be appearing in their seventh Cup Final across all incarnations of the Cup, their fourth in the modern era.
The clubs have met twice in the Nike FC Cup, their first appearance in the third round in 2019 resulted in a 4-1 win to Calder United at Keilor Park Recreation Reserve, with goals to Emma Robers, Angie Beard, Catherine Zimmerman and Polly Doran rounding out a comprehensive display. The same margin separated both teams in the Nike F.C. Cup Final last year. After a tightly contested first half, United blew the game open in the second period with a brace to Aleksandra Sinclair and a long-range stunner from Montana Mathews confirming a 3-0 victory.
Not only are South Melbourne out for revenge for last year’s final, they are hoping that at the fourth time of asking they can finally lift aloft the trophy that has eluded them in three past grand finals.
Calder have been imperious in the league, currently sitting atop the NPLW Victoria table having only conceded six times this year. That form has been reflected in their cup run, with no team able to find a chink in the armour of the top flight powerhouse en route to the final.
Their title defence started with a commanding 11-0 rout of Victorian Premier League opposition Melbourne Knights, which featured hattricks to Ava Groba and Andriana Taranto. The next round saw Calder narrowly edge past State League 1 side Essendon Royals 1-0, thanks to a late Royals own goal at Cross Keys Reserve.
Onto the quarter finals and it was a five star performance from the competition’s most successful side as they ruthlessly put away another VPL outfit in Boroondara Eagles 5-0. The semi-finals posed their toughest challenge yet against fellow top flight side FC Bulleen Lions. But as they have done throughout the years, United once again found a way to win.
After a freezing cold and cagey affair at Valley Park Events Centre, Melissa Taranto’s top left corner finish in the 80th minute was enough to send her side through.
South have had a more turbulent season then they have been accustomed to in recent years, reflected in their table position of seventh. However, where they have struggled to find consistency in the league, their cup form has been something to behold. The highest scoring team in the tournament this year, the side from Albert Park have netted a whopping 43 goals along their journey to the final.
Their road to redemption after last year’s heartbreak started with a staggering 20-0 demolition of State League 1 side Glen Waverly, with hattricks to three players and nine different goal scorers.
They kept their foot on the gas in the next round with a 5-1 win over another State League 1 side in Brunswick Juventus at Lakeside Stadium. The quarter finals saw South flex their muscles once again, ending State League 3 outfit Caroline Springs George Cross’ fairy tale cup run with a ruthless 15-0 victory.
The semi-finals saw them pitted against fellow NPLW giant Heidelberg United. Having yet to be truly tested so far in their run, South were up against it when they fell behind 2-0 in the first half.
Showing incredible resolve, they nabbed one back just before half time and went on to complete their comeback in the second period, running out 3-2 victors in a Nike F.C. Cup classic.
While Calder may not have been quite as prolific in front of goal as South during their cup run, they have had no trouble finding the back of the net in the league. United boast the best goal scoring record in the top flight with 44 conversions so far this season.
No Calder player has netted more than seven in all competitions this season, but they are a side who love to share the load around. Speaking to this, Captain Aleks Sinclair described how her sides unique style and player versatility has been at the heart of their success.
“Our style of play is very different to others. We’re a pretty dynamic and versatile bunch,” she said.
“You can grab a forward and put them into the defence if they need to, or how our centre back can run forward to score goals.”
For South Melbourne, star striker Janna Lawson has 11 goals in just four cup games this campaign and 17 in all competitions. Coupled with strike partner Caitlin Pickett, who has 11 to her name, the two star forwards are sure to be a handful for the Calder defence.
However, It is worth mentioning that including the cup final in December of 2021 and across the two matches the sides have played during the NPLW Victoria campaign, South have yet to breach the Calder walls.
The four-time cup champions have won the last three contests against Sunday’s opponents. But South coach George Georgopoulos says that South has historic culture of winning and believes that his side have all the necessary attributes to flip the script this time around.
“The club is steeped in tradition and we’ve always been in a situation where we’ve been in these types of cup games.”
“Cup games are built on different things. Is it resilience, is it courage, is it bravery? We’re ready for that. We’re going to go out there and be prepared to win this game,” he said.
Winning is indeed not a foreign concept to South Melbourne. NPLW Premiers and Champions in 2017 and Premiers again in 2018, they were also five points clear at the top of the table last season when the league was cut short due to the COVID-associated lockdowns.
Whatever way you slice it, something has to give between these two titans of Victorian football. Calder United have never lost a Nike F.C. Cup final and South Melbourne have never won one.
One of those records comes to an end this Sunday at Valley Park Events Centre.
Date: Sunday, August 7
Location: Valley Park Events Centre, Barry Rd, Meadow Heights VIC 3049
Kick-Off: 4:00PM (gates open 2:45PM)
Ticket: Free Entry
Streaming: The game will be live streamed on Optus Sport, Football Victoria Facebook, Youtube and to NPL.TV. with coverage starting at 3:30PM.