Sofia Sakalis, 15, and Angelique Hristodoulou, 16, are two of the rising stars of Australian football.
Hristodoulou is in her second season in the W-League, while for Sakalis this is her first year as a professional. Angelique is also the captain of the U17 Australian National Youth Team and with Sakalis, played in the Asian qualifiers last year.
While they have formed a close friendship, ahead of Sunday’s W-League decider the talented duo will momentarily forget their off-field bond and Angelique has already fired a warning shot.
“Sofia is one of my best friends but I’ve already messaged her and I’ve said game on!” she told Neos Kosmos.
“Off the field we are great friends, but on the field, I’m focused on winning the game. What happens on the field stays on the field and we both know that. Hopefully we both get a run on Sunday. Because moments like these when you get to play in a grand final don’t come too often. Hopefully we can be in it and experience it because it’s something we would remember forever.”
The Greek Australian youngsters crossed paths when Melbourne City took on Sydney FC earlier in the season and Sofia is eager to face Angelique when the two teams meet again in Sunday’s grand final.
“Not only is there a Melbourne-Sydney rivalry going on between states but also between friends; but it’s a fun competitiveness and it will all be settled on Sunday!” she said.
“The two previous times that Melbourne City won the championships I was a 13-year-old train-on player, this time I am 15 and have a professional contract. It’s what it’s all about, it all comes down to this day. Sydney are a quality team, with amazing players too and on the day the best team will win but I believe in our team.”
While Sofia is confident, Angelique was keen to point out that when the two teams met in round four it was Sydney who came out on top and it’s a match the teenager remembers well.
“It was 2-2 all when Julia Vignes and I came on,” she says.
“Some would say we both made a bit of a difference as we ended up winning 3-2 and that was good. It was also the game which ended our three-game losing streak and so it was the game that turned our season around. We have only gone upwards from there so hopefully we can repeat that and beat them again this weekend.”
Last season Angelique played the majority of games for the Wanderers, but this season the 16-year-old has had to bide her time as Sydney’s squad contains a more experienced line-up than Western Sydney.
When she looks back at her second season playing senior football, Angelique feels her game has developed.
“I think I have done well when I have come on,” she says. “I started against Perth and we had a 2-0 victory and I had to mark the likes of Sam Kerr who at the moment is Australia’s best player.
“Playing the Sydney derby was also a memorable moment for me. We had a great crowd, and they created a great atmosphere, and to beat my former team was a good feeling especially in front of my friends and family who came to watch me. So, I feel I have had a good campaign.”
The biggest thrill for Angelique is the prospect of playing in Sunday’s decider against her close friend Sofia.
“We have a similar background, we are both Greek, we have close families, so Sofia is someone I can relate to,” she says.
“With our situation now in the W-League we are both young and in two of the best teams facing each other in the grand final.
“We are in environments where we are improving all the time and getting better with experience as players so we keep in touch. We tell each other how it’s all going and it’s good to know I have a friend who is experiencing the same thing and someone I can relate to; not only on a personal level but in football as well.”
Sakalis is in a similar situation to Hristodoulou in which experienced Australian and overseas internationals are ahead of her in the pecking order. Sofia says having Angelique there as a friend has been a great help throughout the season.
“Sydney and Melbourne City are both quite similar teams with the players that they have,” she says.
“So, Angie and I always talk about how training was, what they do differently over there and here. I’m always supporting Angie when she’s playing and asking how it was. It’s great to have someone your age just to talk to about stuff like that.
“It’s hard being in such an amazing squad and being young. But when I get out of this environment I will be the best player that I can. The likes of Kyah
Simon, Steph Catley – they’re amazing players and you learn so much from them, just from training with them.”
And ahead of Sunday’s grand final Sofia is hoping to use her teammate’s prior knowledge to her advantage if she gets the call up from her coach.
“This is where you feed off and get guidance from the experienced players, who City have an abundance off,” she says.
“We have Matildas and internationals who have been in these situations so many times. Being so young it’s just a great time to absorb, learn, and gain experience. I am excited for the team because I have been involved in every aspect. I participate and know how hard all the players work and see and feel the hunger to achieve three grand finals in a row.”
Angelique’s teammate and captain at Sydney FC is fellow Greek Australian Teresa Polias and she understands what it’s like to try and breakthrough as a youngster.
She was 17, two years older than Angelique, when she made her W-League debut and she says the young defender is a bright prospect for the club.
“I have really gotten to know Angie and she has done so well this season,” she says. “We carpool together quite often and we have gotten to know each other well. She is such a good young person. Sometimes I forget she is just 16 years old, she is that mature, and her head is screwed on so tight and not just football-wise but a good young woman and smart and she has her head in the right place.”
Polias added, “I know our coach Ante Juric likes to rotate his youngsters. He backs them 100 per cent and every time Angelique has come on the pitch she has taken the opportunity with both hands and done a really good job. She, along with a few others, are really the players of the future for our team.”
Ahead of Sunday’s big game Angelique is still pinching herself that she gets to take part in the biggest game of the season.
“Being that it’s only the second year of me playing in the W-League and being so young, the feeling of potentially taking part in my first grand final is indescribable really,” she says.
“The pressure of the situation also makes it more thrilling and exciting as it’s do or die. It will be interesting to see how the experienced players handle it and the routine that they follow and how they approach the finals. It’s a good experience for me to be in this environment and hopefully I will be in the squad and get on the pitch and experience it myself.”