Belconnen United 1 (Caitlin Munoz 118’) def. Canberra FC 0
By Vincent Smith-Koppie
A 118th minute winner from Caitlin Munoz has seen Belconnen United complete a phenomenal unbeaten season and be named the 2019 NPLW Champions.
Belconnen’s dramatic victory also sees legendary coach Antoni Jagarinec ride out a winner in his last game in charge of the side, which he has led to seven league titles.
The winning goal came just one minute after Canberra FC substituted starting goalkeeper Nat Vasta off in preparation for a penalty shootout.
Munoz’s late strike was the only goal in a tight Grand Final played between this year’s two strongest teams at Deakin Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The first half was evenly matched all across the park and few chances fell for either side.
The Blue Devils had the better of possession but the best opportunity of the half came from Canberra FC on the 30-minute mark, when Melissa Bunker chased down a through ball before cutting inside a defender and forcing a strong save from goalkeeper Sally James.
Possession began to shift early in the second half, but Canberra FC couldn’t manage any more than a couple of shots from outside the box from Brittany Palombi.
Pressure began to build on Belconnen and 65 minutes in they managed to knock the ball behind for a corner in defending a powerful header from Jamie Berkeley.
While the ball was out of play and Deakin prepared for the corner, Ivana Galic and Belconnen’s Catherine Brown clashed in the penalty area, and Galic was subsequently sent from the field after receiving her second yellow card for the match.
All of a sudden it was the Blue Devils who were creating the better opportunities, but desperate defence from Canberra FC kept the score at 0-0.
In stoppage time, with extra time in sight, Keira Bobbin broke through for Belconnen with what may have been the best chance of the match, but Vasta pulled off a world class save to keep her side in the contest.
With extra time came tired legs and chances for each side to find the winner.
In the 93rdminute, Bobbin’s curling shot beat the keeper only to hit the crossbar, while a dangerous, winding run by Rachael Goldstein created all sorts of headaches for Belconnen until a last-ditch tackle by Jessie Rasschaert averted the danger.
As the clock counted down murmurs could be heard around the ground as a penalty shootout began to feel inevitable.
Clearly Canberra FC coach Nik Brozinic was thinking the same thing because with play stopped in the 117thminute for a Belconnen free kick, he made the decision to replace his starting goalkeeper Vasta with Chantel Jones from the bench.
Vasta was visibly upset with the decision and she wouldn’t have been feeling any better just a minute later, when the free kick was floated into the box and fell to Munoz who tapped the ball into the back of the net.
The goal sparked wild celebrations amongst Belconnen players, coaches and supporters that continued for some time after the final whistle.