Brisbane Strikers became the fourth Queensland team to qualify for the 2019 FFA Cup Round of 16 last night after a 4-2 penalties victory (2-2 AET) over Hyundai A-League team Wellington Phoenix at Perry Park.
It was a thrilling spectacle to watch as both teams gave their all across 120 minutes of football in front of 1612 spectators.
The first half was a tight encounter with both sides taking chances when they could. For the first 20 minutes, Strikers pushed forward but lacked in finishing. Meanwhile, the A-League visitors resorted to defensive tactics and pounced on the counter.
It wasn’t long until the deadlock broke when in the 24th minute, Hiroki Omori snagged Strikers their first goal after a swift strike driven to the bottom right corner.
That would be just the beginning of a solid performance from the Strikers fullback who was a standout player for the hosts.
Soon after, the rain started to pour and it proved to be a dampener for both sides. Strikers fell back while Phoenix held majority of possession for the rest of the half.
The Wellington side created a few chances, forcing Strikers keeper Bon Scott to showcase his goalkeeping prowess in a night where he would prove the hero. Ultimately, the visitors couldn’t find an equalizer and went into the break 1-0 down to Strikers.
Gears quickly changed for both sides in the second half. Strikers were on the prowl for more goals and it wouldn’t be long until they found one. In the 55th minute, NPL Queensland record-breaker Andy Pengelly lifted the score to 2-0 after a powerful shot from just within the box.
Just a few short minutes later, the A-league visitors would change the pace of the game drastically. Cameron Devlin found the back of the net in the 58th minute after a free kick setup from Alex Rufer and David Ball.
The pressure was on for Strikers to maintain their lead but the team couldn’t keep it within their grasp. In the 71st minute, Phoenix found their equalizer with Callum McCowatt taking the honour.
With the score at 2-2, both sides threw their players forward in hopes of finding the victory and despite Zach Maltby making an impact for Strikers off the bench, the score remained deadlocked heading into extra time.
The majority of the extra 30 minutes was static as both teams failed to create any major chances until a crucial opportunity came to Wellington in the 105th minute. A handball from Strikers’ Ryan Palmer gifted the visitors a penalty and it seemed like hope was lost for the home side.
Ball gave a hard strike from the spot but in a career-defining moment, Scott denied the shot with driving force to save Strikers from defeat.
After an intense and relentless 120 minutes, neither side could claim the victory leaving the game bound for penalties.
Strikers showcased their composure with Pengelly, Omori and Maltby claiming goals while keeper Scott once again proved the hero to deny McCowatt’s shot in a crucial save for the Brisbane side.
Wellington’s Liberato Cacace and Rufer netted their penalties for the visitors, but Ball missed his opportunity, sending his shot over the bar.
At 3-2, Strikers’ Fraser Hills stepped up to the mark, scoring to secure the victory and send the home side through to the FFA Cup Round of 16 for the third time in the club’s history.
Speaking after the game, Strikers Head Coach Owen Baker praised his team for going the distance throughout the long 120 minutes.
“What a game. It had everything in the end there and the boys held their nerves to win the penalty shoot-out so it was quite amazing,” Baker said.
Baker also acknowledged the difficulty in facing Hyundai A-League opposition and commended his players for stepping up to the occasion.
“You can’t play against an A-League team and defend with nine or ten people, you need eleven. So it was a remarkable efforts by the lads.”
The Brisbane Strikers will host Manly United FC (NSW) in the 2019 FFA Cup Round of 16 with the date and time to be confirmed by the end of this week.
Words: Vivien Topalovic
Image: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images