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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 01 September 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 1 SEPTEMBER 2018 27 SPORT Nia and Paige receive Junior Matildas call up GEORGE STOGIANNOU Young Victorian footballers Nia Stamatopoulos and Paige Zois are about to take giant strides in their journey towards achieving their dreams of becoming fully fledged Matildas. Later this month, each of the young players will step out onto a football pitch in Bishkek, the capital of the remote Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, wearing a Junior Matildas shirt. Their mission will be to help the Junior Matildas win their group against the likes of Palestine, Indonesia, Kyrgyz Republic and Chinese Tapei and thus qualify for the 2019 AFC U 16 Women's Championship in Thailand. Both players earned themselves a place in the 23 player Junior Matildas squad after proving themselves at two recent national training camps. Fifteen year old midfielder Stamatopoulos learnt of her selection through email early in the week. "It was just crazy from them on," she told Neos Kosmos. "I was just so speechless, just so honoured to have this opportunity. Everyone is just so happy. All the support and all the messages have been amazing." Stamatopoulos says she doesn't know much about Kyrgyzstan but intends to find out more in the lead up to the trip. She may not know much about the country where she'll make her Junior Matildas debut, but she is already focused on the job ahead. "Obviously we know what we're there for, what we're competing for. But personally for me, I can't really think about that [pressure] all too much. I've just got to focus on my game and how I can make an influence on the team and how we as a team can perform well and do what we need to do to get at the top," she says. Nia Stamatopoulos will be jetting to Central Asia this month to play for the Junior Matildas PAOK crashes out of Champions League after suffering a heavy 1-4 home loss at the hands of Benfica The Portuguese side had already scored three goals by the end of the first half, ending the dream for the Thessaloniki team It simply was not meant to be for PAOK. Even though everything was on their side, they were playing in front of their hungry fans, they had the 1-1 result from the first game in the "Da Luz" and they managed to find an early goal against Benfica, they just could not overcome the difference in quality that separated the two teams. When it all came down to it, Rui Patricio's men had the experience to survive the situation and not only qualify, but also triumph over Racvan Lucescu's side, scoring three goals before the break. The PAOK coach was fortunate enough not to have any injuries or suspensions, so he was able to use his most favourable line-up, in contrast to Benfica who were missing one of their key strikers in Jonas. The crowd had filled up the stands in the Toumba stadium from early on, showing their anticipation for the game and creating a great atmosphere, and the PAOK players rewarded them with an early goal in the 13th minute, after a great combination between Pelkas, Mauricio and Vieirinha saw the ball land on the feet of Prijovic, who simply laid it to rest in the back of Vlachodimos' net. But that goal just seemed to wake up the Benfica players, as they immediately begun to pile on the pressure on the home side. And their efforts paid off just seven minutes later, after a corner kick saw Jardel beat the PAOK defenders to the ball and equalise for the Portuguese team. If that wasn't enough, a lethal error from PAOK goalkeeper Paschalakis on the 26th awarded Benfica a penalty kick, which Salvio converted. Pizzi found a goal in injury time of the first half as well, after a nice combination from the Benfica team. The dream had begun to turn into a nightmare for the "blackand-white's" and the second half seemed like an uphill battle while their opponents had all the confidence they needed to go out and finish the job. And finish it they did, as they scored again from the penalty spot, after yet another Benfica corner kick, PAOK defender Varela brought down Jardel in the box. Salvio made sure to punish this mistake as well, giving his team a triumphant win as they move on to the Champions League group stage, a place that has begun to seem like an unreachable dream for PAOK. This result sees them move on to the Europa League group stage and it means that the only representative from Greece in the main European football competition will be AEK (after they knocked out Videoton on Tuesday). Despite this result equalising the heaviest home defeat in the history of the club, PAOK coach Racvan Lucescu stated that his players need to be proud for all they have accomplished in this qualifying campaign, having seen through opposition who were greater than them (FC Basel, Spartak Moscow) and reaching greater heights. AEK returns to the Champions League group stage after 12 years After a nerve-racking final minutes, the Greek team managed to claim a 1-1 draw from Videoton and advance to the group stage, where Europe’s best teams await them It may have taken them a few years, but AEK have finally returned to the Champions League. The team from Athens capitalised on their 1-2 victory last week in Budapest against Videoton and even though they were up against it in the last few minutes of the return game in Athens after being reduced to ten men, the lack of experience from the away team and a few good saves from goalkeeper Barkas saw AEK scrape through with the 1-1 draw. Once again, the Champions' coach, Marinos Ouzounidis, had quite a few issues to deal with, as he came up with the starting line-up, given that Anastasios Bakasetas, was unavailable, as was the former Barcelona defender, Dmitro Chygrynskiy. Despite all this, AEK had a huge goal set in mind and they were determined to chase it with everything they had. They maintained possession of the ball and took very few risks for the majority of the first half, with the away team never showing that they could provide much of a threat for a well-organised AEK side. In the second half, things began to change however, when the home team got a penalty kick on the 47th minute after Fiola shoved Helder Lopes in the box. AEK captain Petros Mantalos didn't make a mistake from the white spot, giving his team an even greater margin. And just when the fans began to let out a sigh of relief, thinking that their way to the group stage was all but sealed, ten minutes later, a counterattack from the away team found AEK completely unprepared and Nego was left alone with Barkas to get an equaliser for Videoton. As if that wasn't enough, Helder Lopes was dismissed on the 80th minute, bringing further anxiety to the home side. Videoton were never able to find that second goal that would have sent the tie to extra time, as Barkas showed his re- flexes on a Lazovic free-kick on the 81st and there was no other real threat apart from that. After the game the stadium erupted in jubilation for a team that, just a few years ago, was drowning in financial problems and was stuck somewhere between the second and third divisions of the Greek football categories. This will be the first time in 12 years they will get to participate in the Champions League group stage, the last time being the 2006-07 season. Ouzounidis stated that there was a big difference in skill between the two teams, but that was never made obvious due to how nervous his players were for what was at stake. In a most unothodox action, after the final whistle, AEK forward Marko Livaja attacked Videoton player Danko Lazovic, seeing the red card by the referee Zimon Marczyniak, which could mean that he will be expelled of the first three games of the group stage. Whilst she agrees that the expectations on the players' performance is higher in the national training camps, Stamatopoulos says that it is "a great group of girls. Getting to know them has made me feel more comfortable and friendly." Nia's father, Peter Stamatopoulos, believes that his daughter's selection in the Junior Matildas squad and her experience in the training camps, has spurred her on even further to develop as a footballer. Not bad for someone who initially preferred basketball but converted to soccer, with the encouragement of her brother, Arthur. "The fact that they've acknowledged that she's good enough to play at that level is amazing," Peter says of his daughter's selection. "That has now motivated her even more to train harder and become better. She doesn't want this to end now. She's getting a taste of it and she loves it." Another indication of Nia's determination to devote herself to football and improve her game, was her decision to switch schools this year. After receiving an invitation, Nia decided to change schools to Maribynong Secondary College, which has an integrated Football program. "It's a new program started this year," Nia says. "It's so good. I train four times a week. So I have to wake up early. There's also an Athlete Development Programa gym program." Whilst Kyrgyzstan beckons in the immediate future, Nia hopes that one day she can have a career in the field of Sports Science as well as a career as a professional footballer.
25 August 2018
8 September 2018