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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 10 September 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 10 SEPTEMBER 2016 27 SPORT South Melbourne aiming for WNPL licence on the back of women’s double-title success South Melbourne’s championship-winning senior womens team. PHOTO : KOSTAS DEVES. GEORGE STOGIANNOU If on-field performances are anything to go by, South Melbourne FC senior women's team can feel justified it’s made a strong case for joining the WNPL competition next season, after completing the State League 1 NW title and grand final winning double. They did it in style too, clinching the state league 1 NW title with a 5-0 win against Eltham Redbacks a fortnight ago, followed by a 4-0 grand final triumph over Bundoora Eagles for the overall State League 1 Championship, last Sunday at Knox. South's triumphs followed its surprise failed application for a WNPL licence to join the upcoming inaugural season of the competition. But it gets a second chance at re-applying following the FFV's announcement to expand the number of clubs in the WNPL by one, from the current nine to 10, for next season. So with a licence up for grabs, South's on field success couldn't have come at a better time for the club whose ambition is to play at the top level. Certainly the players themselves feel they've achieved what they set out to do this season. Speaking on SMFC TV after the grand final triumph, captain Alex Cheal said: "It's a privilege to win another championship and have another one under our belt. Not only winning the league but then winning the championship against another division, out of 24 teams, shows that we belong in the NPL and we'll do everything we can to get back in there. I think it definitely makes a statement." Senior coach Socrates Nicolaidis had the task of regenerating the team following an exodus of players to other WNPL clubs before the start of the season. He himself resisted offers to coach from three of the new WNPL, deciding instead to remain at South. "As much as I wanted to coach in the WNPL, I just felt as a professional, I want to be coaching in a professional and elite environment … we've got everything we need to be an elite club, so there was no reason for me to leave. "For me it was all about regenerating the club and our average age was around 17.5 years. We have a very young team … The girls did a fantastic job − we lost three games, two of them to Melbourne Uni and that was because they play very hard, very aggressive, they're an older bunch of girls. So we win the league, we score the most goals, we win the grand final, have the best goal percentage in both the NPL and state 1. We did whatever we needed to do to show the football public that we deserve to be playing at a higher level." An admirer of the style of football his former teammate Ange Postecoglou introduced with great success as coach of the Brisbane Roar, Nicolaidis says: " We've got a certain style we've been trying to develop at South Melbourne, which is dominating possession, and then breaking up opposition defences with quick combinations, movement and then when we lose the ball, we tenaciously win it back as quickly as possible." The coach believes South Melbourne deserves to be considered one of the front runners for the new WNPL licence. "Well I would like to think we are," he says. "I don't know what other clubs are going to apply. I know that the current clubs, reading on Facebook and talking to fellow coaches, in the WNPL, they seem to think there's not enough quality players out there to warrant having a 10th team. But I disagree …" With the FFV stating they're looking for a well-established club to join, Nicolaidis says: "Our U14 community team won the league, our U16s won the league, our reserves came second and our seniors came first and won the grand final. There's a strong case." Junior Matildas waltz through AFC U16 qualifiers: Sakalis scores the Golden Boot GEORGE STOGIANNOU It's not often a player gets to score five goals on their international debut, but that's exactly what Melbourneborn footballer Sofia Sakalis achieved in her first game for the Junior Matildas in the recent AFC U16 qualifying tournament in Vietnam earlier this month. Sakalis was an integral part of the Junior Matildas team, which dominated its five matches in the tournament in Hanoi, topping its group and successfully qualifying for the 2017 AFC U16 Womens Championship in China next year. The Junior Matildas scored a phenomenal 65 goals and conceded just one goal, which came at the end of their final match, such was their dominance over opponents Pakistan, Iraq, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Uzbekistan. The greatest test perhaps was playing in the extremely humid conditions, where temperatures ranged from the mid to high 30s. "The girls have been impeccable on and off the field here in Vietnam, and now also have a good understanding of the importance of a professional culture, which has been instilled in this team and recent junior national teams," said Junior Matildas coach Ante Juric. "This team has continued to be disciplined on and off the field, and that has been evident by the way they have performed with a positivity and a willingness to play for each other at every moment." The 14-year-old Sakalis had a memorable tournament, finishing the tournament's top scorer with 11 goals, which included the remarkable five goal haul against Palestine on debut and topped off with a hat-trick in the final match against Uzbekistan. light," she told Neos Kosmos upon her return to Melbourne earlier this week. "Before the game, especially when you're starting, the national anthem and having that feeling of wearing the top and representing your country, I think that was the best highlight I had." Sakalis' versatility, which enables her to play in a number of positions, forward or in the midfield, meant she featured in all five matches, particularly in the conditions where rotating the squad was necessary. On a personal note, she "Game day was the high- feels she achieved what she wanted to through the tournament. "I was pleased with all my efforts. I really wanted to score quite a few goals, especially on my debut. I was very happy after that." The Junior Matildas will now take a break until next year, when they'll regather for monthly camps in preparation for the AFC U16 Cup finals. The experience of spending two weeks together in the tournament in Vietnam has forged a strong bond among the Junior Matildas. "We're pretty much like a family now. We lived with each other for two weeks so we're all very close. We have each other on social media. That's how we keep in touch at the moment, but it was sad to leave them at the airport, to be honest, because we got so close over the two weeks," said Sakalis. In the meantime, the talented Sakalis is considering offers from both Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City to join as a train on for the coming W-League season. Both clubs can offer her a professional elite environment which is sure to help in the 14-year-old's further development.
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