Galaxy FC knocked off premiers South Brisbane 4-3 in a thrilling women’s F-League championship decider held at Valentine Sports Park on Sunday morning.
It didn’t take long for the action to start with Alisha Foote’s low drive across goal superbly tipped away by South Brisbane keeper Jessica McLean but only as far as Joanne Burgess who nudged home from a tight angle to give FC a 1-0 lead after just a minute.
South Brisbane fluffed a golden chance to draw level five minutes in when Sarah Amorim played a sweet one-two with Sofie Persson however her team-mate pushed the ball wide of the post with Galaxy keeper Noran Abaza racing back across goal.
Gabrielle Marzano also had a great chance to put Galaxy further ahead when she dispossessed Melissa Weckert at halfway and went one-on-one against McLean who stood tall to palm away Marzano’s cheeky chip.
Weckert was next to go close clanging a low drive across goal against the woodwork with Abaza beaten, and seven minutes from the break Nicola Eagle’s seemingly innocuous shot was almost tipped by Abaza into her own net, the Galaxy custodian happy to see the post get in the way.
It took a moment of Persson brilliance to restore parity for South Brisbane, the imposing target nutmegging a defender before racing onto the ball and nutmegging Abaza to bag a brilliant solo goal, and it almost happened again a minute later but Abaza dropped well to smother Persson’s effort and keep the score at 1-1.
McLean too was having a terrific game in the South Brisbane goals and had to be at her best to parry Hecher’s blistering strike to ensure a deadlocked game midway through the contest.
Jo Burgess looked like she’d give Galaxy the perfect term-two start with a thunderbolt that McLean superbly pinned onto the floorboards, and instead it was South Brisbane who claimed the lead when Amorim launched a deadly cross into the D that Natalie Tathem tapped in for a 2-1 edge.
The riveting match was back on level terms within a minute as Galaxy reversed the opportunity with Hecher needling a great pass for Foote to slot under McLean from the tightest of angles, making it 2-2 still a quarter-hour from home.
A spicy encounter heated up further when South Brisbane’s Stephanie Latham picked up a second yellow card for a deliberate handball at the top of the D and Marzano powered home the ensuing freekick to put Galaxy back in front 3-2 with 10 minutes left on the clock.
FC had McLean to thank for keeping Galaxy close with the shotstopper showing solid form to deny a rampaging Hecher on the break, and the heroics paid off when McLean was sacrificed for a fifth-man powerplay and Amorim unleashed a 10m beast that sizzled past Abaza into the back of the net to once again square proceedings 90 seconds from the end, fulltime sounding at 3-3.
McLean was at it again in the first extra-time stanza tipping Foote’s fast-break shot clear as well as Hecher’s long-range blast as Galaxy ramped up the pressure, but she could do little to stop Hecher from netting a screamer midway through the second extra-time period as FC took a decisive 4-3 lead they held to the final whistle.
Galaxy head coach Vinicius de Oliveira applauded both sets of players and appreciated the challenge in an accomplished debut year: “We worked really hard all season and I think we’re finally getting there,” he said. “I had no expectation on the players, I just wanted them to put in good performances each week, and having South Brisbane push us helped us get better and better.”
“The main priority for us is to develop the league and there are definitely a lot of young players coming up. I believe we have made the competition stronger, and I think it will keep getting stronger after seeing games like this.”
Star Galaxy player Mariel Hecher had hung up her professional boots in Brazil last year until de Oliveira coaxed her out to Australia for a three-year stint – and she is relishing the decision to come Down Under.
“What an amazing job, and what an amazing group of girls!” she said, “I really wasn’t expecting to play Futsal at this level once I retired, but this has turned into one of the best experiences of my life!”
“Maybe it is good that it’s not as serious as in Brazil because you can really enjoy what you work hard for – I think this is why we win, it is such a good group of girls and we wanted to do this for each other.”
Defeated South Brisbane coach Justin Morrison was thrilled to be part of such a great advertisement for women’s Futsal and heralded good times ahead.
“Obviously I’m disappointed with the result but, to be fair, that was one of the best women’s games ever played,” he said. “For us in Queensland to have two teams finish first and second and give so many junior players a go, it’s good signs for the future.”
A special nod must go to competition Golden Boot winner Sofie Persson, who can probably thank Galaxy for bringing out her best after scoring five of her 23 goals against their cross-town rivals this winter. It’s the highest individual tally, passing Jodie Bain’s 17 goals in the inaugural 2013 season.
South Brisbane 3 (Sofie Persson, Natalie Tathem, Sarah Amorim) Galaxy FC 4 (Joanne Burgess, Alisha Foote, Gabrielle Marzano, Mariel Hecher)
South Brisbane: Jade Baker, Natalie Tathem, Sarah Amorim, Amber Glew, Kelsey Pifarre, Nicola Eagle, Stephanie Latham, Rebekah Horsey, Sofie Persson, Brittany Waugh, Katherine Kirkwood, Shannon Tathem, Melissa Weckert, Jessica McLean, coach Justin Morrison, assistant Yoel Jogiono, manager Sammy Edwards
Galaxy FC: Trudy Bartlett, Georgina Bridges, Mackenzie Douglas, Brooke Skelly, Jessica Dillon, Ashleigh Bucknall, Nichole Laws, Charlotte Boyes, Mariel Hecher, Lorena Maggio, Noran Abaza, Gabrielle Marzano, Joanne Burgess, Alisha Foote, coach Vinicius de Oliveira, assistant Barry McErlan, assistant Rhys Parkes, manager Armando Cacace, manager Andrew Parkes
Officials: Nick Backo, Owen Ferguson, Cameron Lee, Jared Katz