[Images: Paul Smith]
Surfers Paradise Apollo coach David Benigno says Saturday night’s Westfield FFA Cup qualifying playoff is the biggest match in his 25 years on the local football scene.
The Gold Coast community club will reach the national Round of 32 if they can repeat their giant-killing efforts against Sunshine Coast FC at Lex Bell Oval.
Surfers have already knocked out two PlayStation® 4 National Premier Leagues sides in Gold Coast City and SWQ Thunder – victories Benigno describes as the most memorable of his and his family’s rich history in the game.
“It’s much bigger than a premiership or a Grand Final win,” Benigno said.
“I’ve won six premierships as a coach and I’ve won three Grand Finals and I’ve not experienced anything like what I experienced in those two games.
“I don’t believe Gold Coast football has seen anything of (the) magnitude (of Saturday night’s match) in our league.”
Qualifying for the Round of 32 – where a potential Hyundai A-League opponent awaits – would make Surfers the first community club to represent the Gold Coast in the Final Rounds.
Despite his squad reacting confidently in pre-season to the lighthearted notion of appearing live on Fox Sports, Benigno admits it is only now beginning to sharpen as a potential reality.
“It’s definitely been a taxing journey. At the end of the day it’s something we wouldn’t have even dreamed of if I’m honest,” he said.
“We were all quite jovial thinking how great it would be, but it’s now starting to come into a possibility.
“It’s crazy to be honest.”
Surfers have cause for optimism with the expected return of captain Bruno Rodriguez from a broken nose sustained in the win over Thunder, while Fire’s recent visit to Gold Coast City presented the ideal chance for a full-squad scouting mission.
Benigno can also call on plenty of PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues experience in Lyndon Dykes, Nikki Felizatto, former Round of 32 goalscorer Jack Boxell and ex-Dandenong Thunder man Acim Tomic.
“If we really sit there and compare apples with apples I’ve probably got seven players from the starting eleven that should really be worthy of playing in the NPL,” Benigno said.
“Are we confident we’re going to win it? I don’t think so, we’re just confident as a team and confident in our ability.”