Dwight Yorke and Macarthur FC have secured the Australia Cup for 2022 after downing NPL NSW side Sydney United 2-0 at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday evening.
A 32nd-minute penalty won by Bulls' captain Ulises Davila and converted by Al Hassan Toure put the A-League Men (ALM) side ahead, before second-half substitute Craig Noone won another spot kick in the 90th that Davila stepped up to send home.
It capped off a night of firsts in Sydney's west; the evening beginning with Sydney United becoming the first team from outside the A-Leagues to play in an Australia Cup final and ended with the Bulls securing their first-ever trophy in club history and Yorke his first ever crown as a manager.
1. The Top End of Town Wins Out
It was always going to be difficult for United to continue with giant-killing antics and stage an upset. While the romance of the Cup is built upon noble intentions of level playing fields and football being the ultimate arbiters of success -- virtues worth celebrating, it must be said -- the cold reality is that clubs outside the A-Leagues are still facing an uphill battle in their efforts. Semiprofessionals going up against professionals, almost everything has to go right for an NPL side to upset an A-Leagues side at all, let alone for the third time in one campaign like United were attempting to do on Saturday.
And almost straight from the kickoff, the attacking talent that the Bulls have at their disposal instantly separated themselves from their semi-professional counterparts. In Daniel Arzani, Davila, Toure, and Daniel De Silva, Yorke had an embarrassment of players that can take their man on and make things happen, while Lachlan Rose up front will never stop running or give his foes a moment of peace. In the end, the shot count of 32 to eight in favour of the professional outfit was reflective of the game's ebbs and flows.
Nonetheless, despite all this United was able to maintain a foothold in the contest and ensured that the Bulls were at least made to fight for it. It may have taken until the 69th minute for them to produce their first shot on target -- a nice header from Patrick Antelmi that forced a sharp save from Filip Kurto -- but the underdogs were able to at least hang with the Bulls' pressure without looking like they were going to fall to pieces.
Of course, the chances were certainly there for the Bulls and on another day when they had their shooting boots on, or United keeper Danijel Nizic wasn't in supreme form once again, the narrative might have been different. But United bent without breaking, and in the end, it took two penalties for the Bulls to finally find the net -- a performance worthy of keeping their heads high.
2. Arzani Flashes Further Signs
Arzani's time in Europe may not have worked out the way that he or Australian football would have been hoping, but the mercurial 23-year-old's performance on Saturday evening was yet another sign that he remains a supreme talent heading into the 2022-23 season.
Constantly looking to take on his marker and possessing the skill set needed to turn these thoughts into action before his withdrawal, Arzani gave the United defence fits time and time again over the course of the final, with the NPL side forced to devote numbers onto his side of the pitch in order to provide cover on the frequent occasions that he was able to beat the first defender. Not only was Arzani more than capable of dealing with this extra attention anyway, but it also enabled his teammates to find greater space to operate themselves. It was an enjoyable display of skill, the type that punters pay to see.
Now admittedly, for all the promising signs that the attacker has displayed this season, United represented the third semi-professional outfit that he and his teammates have faced during this run. While he flashed these same qualities against ALM opponent Wellington, this stretch represents more of a foundation for him to build upon than anything else.
Clearly, the biggest area that needs to be addressed is his finishing. While being able to make your teammates better and facilitate opportunities for others are important, the ability to put the ball into the back of the net is also rather significant for attackers. Fortunately, this is something that he has repeatedly said during this preseason that he's identified and, working with a legendary striker in Yorke, is targeting for improvement.
Nonetheless, it's not hyperbolic to recognise that Arzani possesses the innate ability to be a star of the ALM, and possibly beyond. Indeed, it's unfortunate the fanfare that accompanied Arzani's move to Europe three years ago has led to the rise of a counter-narrative that often swings too far in the other direction and seeks to talk down the signs he demonstrates (as well as downplaying a catastrophic ACL injury).
He remains an incredibly exciting prospect and back in an environment that he describes as helping him enjoy his football for the first time in quite a while he's primed to work towards it. And he's got a potential second World Cup appearance -- Graham Arnold watching from the stands on Saturday -- to serve as a carrot.
3. Building the Bulls
Their third ALM season now imminent, the hope for those at the Bulls will be that this triumph and the first piece of silverware in club history will provide them with an on-and-off-field foundation that they can build upon.
Not helped by launching during the pandemic but still exacerbated by a series of own goals, the Bulls have struggled to establish themselves in the hearts and minds of the large, multicultural and football-mad population that exists in southwest Sydney since their birth -- drawing low crowds and failing to properly establish themselves as a broader part of the A-Leagues culture beyond a cowbell gimmick.
It really hasn't been good enough so far, and this was reinforced by their fan contingent at Bankwest Stadium being dwarfed by those backing United.
But with a trophy in hand, the club can now head back to Campbelltown and into the post-COVID era and encourage the locals to get on board with a team that is not only winning but still nascent enough in its journey to be able to say you got in on the ground floor. This proposition would only be made more attractive by the entertaining and attacking football the Bulls look like they'll be playing with their talented frontline and under the guidance of Yorke.
Sydney United: Nizic 8, Fragogiannis 6, Perkatis 7, Vlastelica 7, Bilic 6, Agamemnonos 6, Tomelic 5, Maia 6, Roberts 5, Payne 6, Kaneko 6
Subs: Trifiro 6, Antelmi 7
Macarthur FC: Kurto 6, Vujica 6, Aspropotamitis 6, Uskok 7, McGing 6, Baccus 6, De Silva 7, Arzani 8, Davila 8, Toure 7.5, Rose 7
Best and worst performers
BEST: Ulises Davila, Macarthur FC
The Bulls captain has been through hell this offseason. In late May, the attacker's wife Lily suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, leaving him, his son, and the Australian football community in mourning.
But on Saturday, he was putting in a performance that earned him the Mark Viduka Medal as best afield and scoring the penalty to secure his side the win. And when he walked up to accept the medal and lift the Australia Cup, he did so in a shirt with Lily on its back.
WORST: Unfortunately, what was an otherwise raucous atmosphere produced by the 16,461 fans in attendance that made the contest a genuine spectacle was spoiled by a rogue element; several individuals identified on the broadcast appearing to perform fascist salutes intrinsically tied to the Nazi regime. Not the type of thing Australian football needs or wants.
The Cup existing in their jurisdiction, Football Australia has since launched an investigation into the displays. Swift action will need to follow to ensure those blighting the game with hatred isn't allowed to derail its progress or tar others with their brush.
Highlights and notable moments
Chris Payne gave Arzani a piece of his mind less than a minute into the contest, setting the tone early.
We are underway for the 2022 @AustraliaCup Final - and tensions have already flared in the opening minute!
Catch all the action live and free on @Channel10AU and 10 Play on demand #AustraliaCupFinal pic.twitter.com/qiWLsRtmU0
We are underway for the 2022 @AustraliaCup Final - and tensions have already flared in the opening minute!
Nizic added to his stellar Australia Cup campaign with a series of key saves
Toure stepped up to open the scoring for the Bulls after Davila won a penalty, and promptly celebrated in front of the hostile fans.
GOAL! Macarthur take the lead from the penalty spot!— 10 Football (@10FootballAU) October 1, 2022
Davila draws the penalty inside the box - and Al Hassan Toure finishes the job to give the Bulls a 1-0 lead in the #AustraliaCupFinal #SUDvMAC pic.twitter.com/sduq3VPAPv
Substitute Noone won his side a late penalty that Davila promptly stepped up to ice.
MACARTHUR SEAL IT FROM THE SPOT!— 10 Football (@10FootballAU) October 1, 2022
The Skipper Ulises Davila steps up and slots home the penalty to give Macarthur a 2-0 lead and seal the Australia Cup! #AustraliaCupFinal #SUDvMAC pic.twitter.com/FOGENEi1Kg
Toure provided one of the highlights of the night with an emotional post-game interview in tribute to his captain.
"Everyone in this team, we've become a family ... and tonight it was about Uli and his family"— 10 Football (@10FootballAU) October 1, 2022
Plenty of emotions pitch-side from @mfcbulls Al Hassan Toure - who talks about what this @AustraliaCup win meant to the club and their skipper#AustraliaCup #MagicOfTheCup #SUDvMAC pic.twitter.com/fhsEwSLDdS
After the match: What the managers, players said
Lachlan Rose to Network Ten: "It's unbelievable. Credit to Sydney United, they made it very difficult for us the whole game. They're a quality NPL side and they've shown what it takes to compete at this level. It was very tough out there. I'm very proud of the boys, they all dug deep and we've been working all offseason for that. It feels so good."
Daniel Arzani to Network Ten: "It's been a roller coaster since coming back home but I'm definitely happy I made the decision. The lads have been unbelievable, the atmosphere tonight was unbelievable. Happy we got the win, happy we made history tonight and there's only more to come."
Dwight Yorke to Network Ten: "This [achievement] has to be up there. It's from a different perspective because now I'm a manager and not a player. It's been a fantastic transition into management. Certainly coming to Macarthur the expectations here have gone up a notch. I didn't expect to get to the final and win my first trophy in so little time, but credit to the players."
Key Stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- The 2022 Australia Cup final was the 40th national Cup final staged in Australia and was played 60 years after the first final of the precursor Australia Cup in 1962.
- The crowd of 16,461 -- the vast majority of whom were cheering for United -- was the second largest attendance in competition history and the largest for a game featuring an NPL team.
- United became the first ever team from outside the A-Leagues to play in the final of the Australia Cup in the ninth year of its modern history. The game marked the first time that they had played for national silverware since the 1999 NSL Grand Final.
- Bringing their total up to 19 in the win, Macarthur recorded the second-most goals in a single Australia Cup campaign during their run, trailing only Sydney FC and their 20 in 2017.
- The Cup win means that Yorke is undefeated in competitive fixtures since entering senior management, his only defeat coming at the helm of the A-Leagues All-Stars in an exhibition match against Barcelona.
- 742 clubs entered the 2022 iteration of the Australia Cup, the largest single competition in Australian sport.
Sydney United: Their Cup run now over, United's players and staff will finally be able to enjoy a well-earned break at the conclusion of their 2022 season - although Nizic might want to wait by the phone in case an ALM club comes calling.
Macarthur FC: The Bulls will open their ALM season away to Brisbane Roar next Saturday afternoon, before staging their home opener against Adelaide United the following week.