There were a dozen goals scored in the semi-finals of the Australia Cup Qualifying in Canberra in midweek as the Monaro Panthers and West Canberra Wanderers held their nerve to win thrilling penalty shoot-outs and progress to the Final on Saturday 4 June and a shot at a place in the Round of 32.
The Riverside Stadium in Queanbeyan was the venue for the first of two epic midweek matches with Panthers edging out Canberra Olympic after 120 minutes of astonishing football drama.
Action kicked off midway through the first half when Panthers’ striker Nikos Kalfas was adjudged to have been brought down by Olympic goalkeeper Sebastian Usai, much to the ire of the Olympic custodian and his teammates. Kalfas picked himself up to crash the spot-kick in off the underside of the bar.
Olympic’s response was rapid. Barely three minutes had passed when Aisosa Ihegie reacted sharply to a quickly taken corner from Alen James to lash home the equaliser. Incredibly, Panthers hit back on the half-hour as a magnificent cross from Darren Bailey was nodded home at the far post by midfielder Zak McLaren.
It was a lead that lasted less than two minutes as Olympic levelled again this time Nick Subasic arriving on the back-post to plant a header past Jordan Thurtell, and Olympic were ahead on the stroke of half-time as Ihegie got in behind the defence and raced clear to pick his spot in the corner.
Thurtell then denied Oliver Wiederkehr as a pulsating opening first forty-five minutes concluded. There was just as much action in the second half, but less goals. Crucially however the one that did arrive came for the Panthers as substitute James Wilson turned in a corner from close range as the game went to extra-time.
With no further goals in that extra period, the match would be decided on penalties and when Elie Darwich and Ihegie missed, Kofi Danning was presented with the chance to send his team to the Final for the second successive year, and he didn’t pass it up.
Twenty-four hours later and the football community was treated to an instant replay as West Canberra Wanderers and O’Connor Knights shared six goals between them in an amazing semi-final, the Wanderers prevailing when Michael Adams and Kynan Dodd missed in the shoot-out.
Jakeb Wiseman was the Knights hero, smashing home the winning penalty after saving three himself, one in the shoot-out and two in a remarkable opening twenty minutes of this sparkling encounter.
In a breathless opening, Beau Harvey was on hand to stab home from inside the six-yard box after Seb Arranz saved from Blaise Vlazlovski, to put the Wanderers ahead. The Knights had a chance to get back on terms when they were awarded a penalty in the 8th minute, but Adams saw his strike saved by Wiseman.
The Wanderers were given a penalty of their own just before the quarter-hour and Harvey made no mistake to double the home team’s advantage. Unbelievably, the Knights were given a second penalty just four minutes later. Patrick O’Rourke was tasked with the shot and Wiseman superbly saved again.
A goal from Phakedi Manda, smashing in a loose ball after a fortuitous ricochet brought the Knights back into it, ended a superb opening half of football.
Wanderers must have thought that they had secured a final place when Jenno Ceruti, at the second attempt, slotted home with just over twenty minutes to play but there was still time for loads more drama.
Connor Mynott-Smith has been in wonderful form recently and his goal underlined that, dragging a cross into his path, and arrowing a finish high into the top corner. With time running out the visiting side drew level when Josip Jadric swung in a free-kick that Daniel Roberts met with a looping header that dropped into the net.
As per 24-hours earlier, there were no further goals in the extra half-hour despite a very late effort from Jacob Ayuel that came back off the top of the bar, as the match went to penalties where Wiseman, man of the match for his penalty heroics, was the difference both between the posts and from the spot.
AUSTRALIA CUP QUALIFYING SEMI-FINAL
Tuesday 17 May
Monaro Panthers 3 (Kalfas 22’ (p), McLaren 30’, Wilson 79’) Canberra Olympic 3 (Ihegie 25’, 45’, Subasic 32’) – after extra time, Panthers won 4-3 on penalties
Wednesday 20 May
West Canberra Wanderers 3 (Harvey 5’, 14’ (p), Ceruti 69’) O’Connor Knights 3 (Manda 33’, Mynott-Smith 73’, Roberts 90+5’) – after extra time, Wanderers won 4-2 on penalties
AUSTRALIA CUP QUALIFYING FINAL
Saturday 4 June
Monaro Panthers v West Canberra Wanderers
(Deakin Stadium, Kick-Off: TBC)