South head into the FFA Cup semifinal against Sydney FC as underdogs. Amongst Sydney’s squad are World Cup internationals such as Serbian midfielder Milos Ninkovic and former Socceroos Luke Wilkshire, Alex Wilkinson, and David Carney. Then you have players such as Polish import Adrian Mierzejewski and Brazilian striker Bobo who have European Champions League experience.
Additionally South Melbourne will be taking on a team that last term lost only one game during the regular home and away A-League season. On the way to winning the premiership, Sydney FC recorded the most wins, highest goal difference, least goals conceded, most clean sheets and most points in a season and highest winning margin in the history of the A-League.
However South Melbourne striker Milos Lujic feels that South can pull off an upset, especially as they have the hometown advantage.
“We’re going to go into the game confident and going for the win – there’s no other way to play,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
“I wouldn’t underestimate us at all. We know we have a big challenge ahead of us but we’re going to give it our all. We haven’t lost a lot of games at Lakeside Stadium these last four years since I’ve been there. If we have any chance of winning the game it will be at Lakeside. We’re going to go into the game with confidence and give it everything we’ve got and hopefully the crowd gets behind us as well.”
While Lujic is confident, South coach Chris Taylor says beating the current A-League Champions would be one the biggest shocks in FFA Cup history.
“We’re playing the best team in Australia who are now peaking and we’re out of season and if we got the best result it would be the biggest upset of all time,” he says.
“With Sydney FC it’s not just that they’re the national champions, it’s that they’re probably a cut above anyone else in Australia at the moment.
“Obviously, we go out there to win it, but let’s be realistic about it. If you were a betting man, Sydney is going to be the red hot favourite to beat us. We’ll put up the best show we can, but the most important thing is that we get a good crowd there at our stadium to show everyone that we are capable of going to the next level.”
Without Lujic’s goals, South Melbourne would not have reached the semifinal stage of the FFA Cup. The former Australian youth international has scored a remarkable 113 goals in 131 appearances and the 27-year-old is looking to add to his tally on Wednesday night.
“You have to go into every game confident that you’re going to score,” he says.
“If I wasn’t going in there confident and thinking that I would score then I wouldn’t really be playing, to be honest.
“It doesn’t matter who you are playing against. It’s 11 versus 11 and everyone is human. They have two arms and two legs like us. I’m going to go in there like every other game and try my best to get on the score sheet like I always do for South Melbourne.”
Now in its fourth season, the FFA Cup has allowed NPL clubs to match and test themselves against A-League teams who have bigger budgets, full-time training, and top class facilities.
But over the years, lower-tier teams have caused upsets and this season’s FFA Cup has been no different. In the earlier rounds Heidelberg beat Perth Glory while Western Sydney Wanderers struggled against Blacktown City and Lujic believes the gap to the A-League is closing.
“For a team like Western Sydney Wanderers, who have been Asian Champions League winners, to scrape through and defeat a team like Blacktown on penalties is, I wouldn’t say disgraceful, but it really goes to show that there’s not much difference,” he says.
“The players that make a difference are the internationals. With the right facilities and the right training, it’s fair to say that there are a lot of players from the NPL that could step up. Hopefully we pull a shock and we’re the first team in the final. That would be great.”
While Lujic is hopeful of knocking over Sydney, he is also being realistic about the uphill battle that South Melbourne face.
“There’s no doubt that we are massive, massive underdogs,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of people say that Sydney are going to show South Melbourne why they shouldn’t be in the A-League. But if you’re going to be in the A-League then it’s going to be a different squad as they have marquee players and spend many millions of dollars. While half of us are on the construction site, school teachers and personal trainers. So, it’s a big, big difference.
“But anything can happen in soccer. There have been shocks all around the world and we’ve seen it happen time and time again.”
When Sydney takes on South Melbourne in the FFA Cup it will be first time a former NSL team has faced an A-League side in the semi-final.
Considering South aspires to play in the top-flight, the club’s A-League bid chairman Bill Papastergiadis believes the result is secondary to what this game means for Australian football as whole.
“It’s one of the most important games for the club in the last decade,” he says.
“Because this year it was the principal aim of the club to make it deep into the FFA Cup.
“It’s playing on the biggest stage against arguably the biggest club, or one of the biggest clubs in Australia and one of the bigger clubs in Asia, with a big budget and massive international names. Which in some ways, given our respective playing budgets, it’s a David versus Goliath match.
“It also heightens the discussion about the need for promotion and relegation, because it does capture the imagination of the football public and also it gives players an opportunity to perform at their highest level on the national stage which is vital for the game.”
When the full-time whistle blows at Lakeside on Wednesday Lujic will have one wish: “As long we don’t have any regrets,” he says.
“If all the boys put in 100 per cent and we know that we left everything on the park on the day then that’s the thing.
“I know we’re going to need a bit of luck. It plays a huge part in games like this and if some goes our way anything can happen. As long as we come off that park and we haven’t let our fans down then that’s the most important thing.
“If we can make the final it would mean everything to the club. Not just the club, it would mean a lot to NPL teams across Australia It would be a big shock to a lot of people but it would mean everything to us.”