Thanks to the effects of COVID lockdowns, match suspensions and the eventual cancellation of the 2021 campaign no Community Shield, Premiers’ Plate, or Victorian Championship has been awarded across the 12 months – leaving the 2021 Nike FC Cup as the lone opportunity for Victorian sides to add something to the honour board in what has been a highly disruptive and challenging year.
The Cup itself, despite going through a number of monikers across its history, has a relatively short history, first contested in 2012 and 2021 marking, thanks to a pandemic-enforced cancellation in 2020, its ninth iteration.
First won by Box Hill United after goals from Kat Smith and Georgia Koutrouvelis lifted them to a 2-0 win over Bundoora United, it is a tournament that, in recent years has largely become the Calder United show – the side from Keilor Park Recreation Reserve seeking to secure a historic fourth-straight Cup win over South this Sunday.
After previously downing FV Emerging, Lara United, and Alamein FC, Calder booked a place in the decider in the first game of a semifinal doubleheader at the Veneto Club this past weekend: downing Box Hill – who despite their lone crown have emerged somewhat as Cup specialists in the past decade – 2-0.
Meeting an inswinging corner from Adriana Taranto, Alycia Eicke opened the scoring for coach Mark Torcaso’s side in the 16th minute of the contest; deflecting a header off the keeper’s thighs and into the back of the net.
Further opportunities would then follow for the three-time defending Cup champions – outshooting their foes 12 to two in the opening stanza and eventually ending with a 24 to six advantage – but thanks to some dogged Pythagoras defending (and the frame of the goal), they would be left frustrated for much of the contest.
Eventually, however, a moment of class would deliver Calder their two-goal buffer and a place in a fourth-successive final: Melissa Taranto shrugging off the challenges of one, two, and three Box Hill defenders before laying off a pass for captain Aleksandra Sinclair that was as audaciously as it was deftly lobbed over the head of the keeper from range.
For Box Hill, it meant a third-straight iteration in which Calder had ended their Cup run – although on this occasion, at least, it didn’t arrive in the form of a heartbreaking Final defeat as it did in 2019 and 2018.
South Melbourne, for their part, will be playing in their third Cup final this weekend but searching for the first actual triumph after being defeated by Sandringham’s Eliza Gleadell’s lone goal in 2013 and falling to Bulleen in the 2014 final – Tessa Sernio and Emily Coppock on the scoresheet in that one.
Given the respective age profiles of the two squads in last weekend’s second-semifinal – South Melbourne’s inexperienced lineup made to look veritably battle-hardened by the fresh-faced XI put forth by Bulleen – few would have expected South, who previously defeated Ringwood City, Moreland Zebras, and Casey Comets, to have much trouble in punching their ticket to a third Cup final.
Yet, despite the eventual comfortable margin of Victory, Hellas was made to work hard for their right to play this weekend across the opening hour of play at the Veneto Club as, refusing to back down and even willing to take it up to their bigger-bodied opposition, the Lionesses didn't fade away after Bella Stringfellow's eighth-minute opener.
In fact, despite the clear disparity in size and top-end talent between they and their foes, they even managed to find an equaliser when Olivia Triantafillidis refused to give up on a ball knocked forward and was promptly rewarded for her endeavour when she nipped in and poked past an on-rushing Freya Crocker charging out to clear.
But eventually, bravery gave way to reality and, inspired by Julia Budiongo, coach Sam Young's side took control of the fixture.
Arriving at a long-ball over the top ahead of recently introduced substitute keeper Kayla Zarkos, prodding it forward and eventually knocking it over the goal line, the youngster restored South's lead in the 63rd minute, before adding a third and a fourth in the 71st and 78th stanzas.
Caitlin Pickett, who on the balance of play was good value for it, then made it five when she put the cherry on the Hellas sundae in the 83rd minute.
Thanks to COVID-associated lockdowns, Sunday's combatants met just once during the eventually abandoned 2021 NPLW Victoria campaign: South heading into Keilor Park Recreation Reserve and walking out with a 3-2 win and all three points.
Almost concussing herself on the post in the process, Lucy Johnson opened the scoring for the visitors in just the fifth minute of that contest, only for Harriet Withers to tie things back up when she struck in the 37th.
Two quickfire goals from Natalie Martineau and Johnson again served to restore South's lead shortly after the resumption of play in the second half -- and gave them enough of a buffer to absorb Withers' second goal in the 78th minute.
But with a significant number of players from both sides unavailable for this Sunday’s game through A-League Women duties – Johnson (Newcastle Jets), Withers (Melbourne Victory), Catherine Zimmerman (Victory), Melissa Barbieri (Melbourne City), Melina Ayres (Victory), and Naomi Chinnama (City) amongst those absent due to professional obligations – form from the 2021 NPLW Victoria season will largely be thrown out the window by both sides.
Instead, it will be on the likes of the Taranto twins, Sinclair, and Natasha Dakic for Calder, and Budiongo, Akeisha Sandhu, and Kat Goff for South to prove the difference makers.
Date: Sunday, 19 December
Venue: CB Smith Reserve 79-83 Jukes St, Fawkner VIC 3060
Tickets are FREE, but we strongly encourage all attendees secure a free ticket online prior to the match to receive express entry at the gate. This is a COVIDSafe event and all attendees will need to scan the QR Code on arrival.
Can't make the game? The match will be LIVE STREAMED on FV Facebook and Youtube. Tune in from 3:30 for the Pre-Game show featuring Joey Lynch, Melissa Barbieri and Marissa Lordanic.