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South Melbourne's journey to the FFA Cup and beyond

On a winter's evening in late July, South Melbourne won their first ever Round of 32 FFA Cup game and this Wednesday night the former NSL powerhouse has an eye on a quarter final spot and beyond

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Photo: South Melbourne FC Facebook

18 August 2017

South harnessed all its reserves to register a 1-0 home win over Edgeworth Eagles allowing the Victorian NPL side to reach the FFA Cup Round of 16 after three attempts.

Throughout the match the Northern NSW NPL side didn't allow the home team to play their usual brand of football, and more than matched their opponents. With the scores deadlocked after 94 minutes, South's goal scoring machine Milos Lujic headed home the winning goal from a corner to send the South fans into extra time delirium.

The build-up of the game saw South Melbourne feature prominently on Fox Sports coverage and Lujic says the team felt the pressure of an expected victory.

"Maybe there were some nerves at the start," revealed the 27-year-old. "Edgeworth's intensity was fantastic from the beginning but we knew they couldn't last at that pace for 90 minutes. We completely dominated the second half and deserved the win at the end."

South Melbourne A-League chairman Bill Papastergiadis also echoed Lujic's admission that the club were under enormous strain to make it past the Round of 32 after failing in their previous three attempts.

"For us that match was vitally important and progressing to the Round of 16 was do or die for us," he says. "That's a big first for us and secondly it was a major opportunity to showcase the stadium, the social club, facilities and our support base on national television.
"The club has enormous fighting spirit all the way from the senior coach through to our Under-sevens. All the teams are performing well in the NPL and in the juniors, all the way through to our seniors and the pressure was significant and extraordinary on the players and the coach to get the right result. They performed admirably and showed good resolve, good sportsmanship and got the result when it was required."

The A-League aspirants now head into their Round-of-16 FFA Cup clash looking to beat Western Australia's Sorrento FC but Lujic admitted the players are aware the club is also aiming to win hearts and minds.

"It's no secret how much the FFA Cup means to the club," he says.

"I'm glad we could get over the line and we hope the club can get even more exposure now. It felt great to score in such a big match for the club in the 90th minute as well. I'm just glad I could score for all the fans who were great on the night.
"It shows the winning mentality of the playing group. Since I have been at the club we have won so many games when our backs have been against the wall and it's a credit to the coaching staff and the players to have high expectations of each other and to not accept a defeat without giving our all for the fans and the club."

The late win over Edgeworth follows on from their come-from-behind victory over Dandenong, and Papastergiadis cheekily admitted their late FFA Cup exploits are all a ploy.

"What South is doing is bringing excitement back into the game," he says.

"We don't want any of our supporters leaving the match until the final whistle is blown. So, it's a strategic play to make sure that every fan gets [their] money's worth.
"Leaving aside that fact that we have 10 heart surgeons on standby to help with resuscitating anyone in case the drama is too much."

Before the game the club's social club facilities had 180 guests assembled for a pre-match dinner that included the president of the China-Australia community federations, the president of the Shanghai Association, and the Chinese Consul-General to Victoria Jian Zhao.

The setting provided the opportunity for the club to announce a football partnership between South Melbourne and China, which was covered by 16 Chinese news agencies and radio stations.

"The China-Australia football foundation is part of the story and narrative of South Melbourne in terms of ensuring that we are continuing to stay relevant at all times," revealed Papastergiadis.

"We will be linking up with Chinese Super League clubs from China so kids will come here to train, sleep and eat and they will be looked after in the South youth program. They will utilise our facilities and all the football knowledge we have such as the full-time coaches we've got and to sell the brand. We've linked our club specifically into Asia and the domestic Chinese population."

While South Melbourne is working behind the scenes to build their brand off the field, Lujic feels success on the field is also a way of highlighting their A-League aspirations.

"There is always big expectations at this club across all competitions," he says.

"It is especially important to have a good cup run as the club wants to be on the national stage again.
"The club want to show Football Federation Australia that they are ready for the A-League and the FFA Cup is a perfect way to showcase the amazing facilities and structures that are in place to succeed in the top tier.
"When we play at our best we can beat anyone, so I think we can push to a semi-final or final and then after that anything can happen in cup football. Playing an A-League team at home would be the best result for the club and the players would love to show what they can do against an A-League team."

South will not have it all their way when they take on Western Australia's Sorrento FC, who in the previous Round beat last year's Cup semifinalist's Canberra Olympic 1-0.

And after two late dramatic wins and some patchy form in certain periods of previous games, Papastergiadis is confident Lakeside will witness an improved performance in the next round.

"We'll see in this next FFA Cup game an even better South Melbourne because they will be playing now with a lot more confidence and freedom," he says.

"So, this will be an even more exciting game against Sorrento. A win is imperative and we can't underestimate the importance of it and we would be lying in saying it's not relevant and that it's not imperative."

As South's A-League chairman in waiting Papastergiadis' focus is not just on South making it to the Round of 16, he believes whatever happens on the pitch, his focus is also on the big picture.

"It's also about the hard work that has been done previously," he says.

"That is in setting up the social club, in setting up the stadium deal, in recruiting players, in keeping a stable administration of the club. They are all the things that will guarantee the long terms success not just one or two games in the FFA Cup.
"The FFA Cup for me is the cherry on top of the cake and the cake is the foundation for the club and that is what we have been working on and that is what is going to hold us in good stead no matter what happens in the FFA Cup."

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