A decorated career probably deserved a better swansong, but Kostas Katsouranis said he was happy to have bid farewell to his football career in front of a big Greek crowd at Olympic Village last Tuesday evening. He was philosophical about Heidelberg United’s FFA Cup exit, after its 5-0 loss at the hands of the professionals from the big end of town, Melbourne City.
Before a national TV audience and an 11,000 strong Olympic Village crowd, the first half unfolded as the tale of two strikers. City’s import Bruno Fornaroli showed typical opportunism inside the box to convert a cross from Wade Dekker after just two minutes to give the visitors a great start and stun the home crowd.
In sharp contrast, the Bergers’ Kaine Sheppard was unable to convert a chance to level due in large part to a brilliant instinctive save from City keeper Tando Velaphi.
City responded positively to the close call, with strikes at goal from Robert Koren, Fornaroli and Paulo Retre.
Heidelberg’s guest marquee player Kostas Katsouranis had his best spell of a quiet opening, during the last 10 minutes of the half. Playing in his favoured defensive midfield position, his sure passing helped the Bergers play some of their more fluent football in the game.
But the story of the second half was written largely by an Australian international. Twenty minutes in, City midfielder Aaron Mooy fired a warning shot which hinted at what was to follow. Mooy found the back of the net only for the ref to rule offside. But then the Socceroo followed his disallowed goal with a devastating hat-trick inside 20 minutes, effectively ending the game as a contest. The final act of the match echoed the beginning, with Fornaroli scoring his second. The goal capped a dominant second half by City and left the Bergers players with their hands on hips in resignation.
“Most of the week, we spoke of not conceding early, and within a couple of minutes you’re down,” said Heidelberg United coach George Katsakis after the game. “But credit to the boys, because in the next half hour, I thought we were very good. But nevertheless I think the tempo, the pace, the professionalism, their full-time experience showed today and they were definitely the better team and expectedly they should’ve been.”
Former national Greek team captain Kostas Katsouranis agreed, announcing after the match that it was his swansong. “We didn’t play badly,” he said, “but we have a different level. The other team (City), had more quality than our team, a professional team. Our team is an amateur team. But we gave everything on the field. For me, it was my last game in my career. I’m very happy because I played here in front of many Greek fans, and I helped one small club that for me is a big club, not a small club, Megas Alexandros, to grow up. And it’s an honour for me. I’m very happy because all the players in my team played together, they gave everything on the pitch.
“There were many, many people here. I hoped that we gave something to them. But this is football and we lose …but life goes on and I think it’s a historical day for the club.”
Coach Katsakis added: “We may have been losers on the park, but I think in general football terms, in the community, I think we’ve made ourselves very proud. To be honest, when we walked out for the kickoff at 8.00 pm, I couldn’t believe myself. I was beside myself. It was fantastic.
“Today’s a great indication of grass roots football at its history. I think we’ve forgotten about its history. I see what we experienced out there today. No doubt Kosta’s appearance had a lot to do with it as well, but it took an NPL club at grassroots football to bring a marquee player and deliver a message that we did. Now that needs to be applauded by everyone at the FFA, through all the federations, and to see there is scope for a (national) second division. Certainly teams like Heidelberg, I’m certain, will be leading the way for that.”
Melbourne City now progresses to a semi-final against Perth Glory while the one remaining NPL club, Hume City, will play Melbourne Victory in the FFA Cup semi finals.