With the current Australia Cup down to its semi final stage, and with two NPL sides up against A-League teams in the semis over the next week, it is perhaps timely to look back at St George’s effort into making it to the final 32 just a few years ago.
Back in 2019, the Saints, coached by former Socceroo Wally Savor, made the draw for the final 32 of the then-named FFA Cup for the first time, after working through four rounds of the cup during that NPL2 state league season.
Entering in round four, it was a close 2-1 opening win over SD Raiders at 5Sports Caringbah, with goals to Musashi Kokubo and Bradley Bartels helping to secure the win.
Next up was an away fixture at Association side West Pennant Hills Cherrybrook and a comfortable 4-0 victory, with goals to Kevin Lopes, a double to Aleksander Lekoski and a late goal in time added on to Ko-kubo.
Round 6 was the toughest assignment with a home fixture against NPL1 heavyweights APIA Leichhardt, who the previous year had knocked out Melbourne Victory in a famous round of 16 upset. But the Saints, again at 5Sports in Caringbah, caused a boilover with Bradley Bartels scoring the only goal of the game with a quarter of an hour to go. Despite heavy pressure from APIA, the St George defence stood firm to take an upset of their own.
Round 7, victory in which would take the Saints to the final 32, was against NPL3 side Dulwich Hill at Val-entine Park. Dulwich Hill put up a strong performance and it was only an Hussein Akil penalty which had the Saints in front as late as 80 minutes. But three goals in the final ten, a second to Akil, Bartels once more, and Matias da Silva Santos, ran out the result to 4-0.
Unfortunately, when the draw was made for the final 32, we didn’t draw an A-League side but did gain a home clash against NPL1 Sydney United, a side who had narrowly defeated us in the Waratah Cup semi final at Edensor Park a few weeks before.
Confidence was high that another NPL1 side could be defeated, as APIA had been in round 6, but it was United who took an early lead through Patrick Antelmi in the 18th minute. Only 0-1 at half time, Sydney United doubled their lead just after through Josh McDonald, and it seemed that the NPL1 side would take a comfortable win. But Musashi Kokubo brought it back to 1-2 in the 63rd, before Marcus Beattie equal-ised for 2-2 with just twelve minutes left. It was game on.
It seemed that the match would be headed for extra time until United’s Yianni Perkatis scored what seem-ed sure to be the winner in 90+3’. Amazingly, the game wasn’t over though, and in the sixth minute of time added on, Musashi Kokubo popped up to scramble a late equaliser for 3-3.
Sadly, extra time was to prove a bridge too far, and despite a gallant performance, tired legs took over and two goals in the second period of extra time, to Tariq Maia and Michael Ruhs, saw Sydney Utd take a 5-3 victory.
While we haven’t made the final 32 since that year, the coverage received at the time, and the increased coverage of the newly named Australia Cup since, certainly makes it a competition well worth fighting to compete in. On the next page is coverage from the fixture against Sydney United from The Leader.