Knockout action in the 2022 Capital Football National Premier League Finals series gets underway this weekend with a pair of contests set to light up the imagination as the top four meet, Canberra Croatia and Gungahlin United for a place in the Grand Final and Monaro Panthers and O’Connor Knights to avoid elimination.
The League Champions come into the fixture with the Gunners having arrested a mini-slump in which they only picked up one point from six, albeit the one that secured them an unequalled 25th League title, sweeping aside West Canberra Wanderers 5-0 at Deakin Stadium last weekend.
Gungahlin meanwhile recorded a third successive victory with their 2-1 win that knocked Canberra Olympic out of contention for a spot in the end of season showdown, a welcome return to form for Marcial Munoz and his team following a four match run without success prior to that.
Canberra Croatia have only won once in their last four home meetings with Gungahlin United and twice in their last six fixtures with the Gunners, a startling statistic, even though they did come out on top in their last meeting, a win over a ten-man opposition who saw striker Philippe Bernabo-Madrid sent-off.
It was Bernabo-Madrid that decided the Round 11 match in favour of Gunners, his strike the only goal at Deakin Stadium, but Golden Boot winner Daniel Barac can go one better. His goals earned victories for the League Champions in the Round 3 and Round 18 matches, both fixtures ending 2-1.
Historically, there has never been much in matches between the pair, Croatia having won eleven to Gungahlin’s eight of the twenty-one games played in all competitions although, perhaps tellingly, Croatia has won four to Gungahlin’s one in Finals/Australia Cup clashes. They usually find a way to get it done.
Two teams who have been strangers to the Finals will lock horns in the do-or-die Elimination Final as Monaro Panthers and O’Connor Knights make their maiden bows in the end-of-season showcase.
O’Connor Knights last Grand Final appearance was back in 2005 when they were beaten 1-0 by Canberra Deakin, whilst the Panthers need to head back to 1999 for their last Grand Final foray, a 1-0 success over the Capital City Suns.
Recent history suggests that the Panthers, who ended the League season eight points above the Knights, are favourites to succeed, they have won the last two fixtures between the clubs by the same 2-0 scoreline, with the first of this year’s trio of match-ups ending in a 1-1 stalemate.
Monaro had a welcome victory in Round 21, the 2-1 defeat of the Tigers ending a spell of two matches without a goal, and a strike from lively forward Andre Carle, breaking his own personal goal drought, might have come at just the right time for those of a green and black persuasion.
The Knights have one default mechanism. Attack. Their matches are usually laced with goals and plenty of opportunities for both teams, making them a must-watch in the NPL during the 2022 campaign.
The 3-1 win over Belconnen United, the result which sent the Blue Devils into the Capital Premier League, was lit-up by a couple of superb goals. Micheal Adams and Phakedi Manda, the dynamic attacking duo, scoring spectacular efforts, Adams’ strike in particular was well worth a look.
Closing down the Knights midfield, and denying them swift transition, will be key for the Panthers, whilst the Knights must stifle the creativity of Ben Basser-Silk and the industry of Gabe Cole and Zak McLaren if they are to upset the form-book once more.
Saturday 17 September
Canberra Croatia v Gungahlin United (Deakin Stadium, 13:00)
Monaro Panthers v O’Connor Knights (Deakin Stadium, 10:00)