Rival sides hoping to knock Inter off its mantel at the top of the Limestone Coast Football League world will have to work a bit harder after the 2020 premiers started its new year on a winning note.
Coming up against a determined Apollo outfit, Inter weathered the storm to kick off the 2021 Steeline pre-season cup with a 4-0 triumph amid the special backdrop of Anzac Day.
It was also the dream start for new Inter coach Luciano Zaccardo and his assistant Vlada Gajic. The duo took over the reins from club legend Tony D’Agostino and Zaccardo said the 2019 Steeline Cup final rematch close to perfect in home conditions. “It was a great day,” he said. “It is what we train hard for over three months, so it was great to finally get out on the pitch and have a go.
“I was happy with the structure early on. “We did lose a bit of space between the strikers and midfield for a while and that made it a bit hard because Apollo played a deep, defensive game. “But fortunately we have a pretty quick backline as well, so they held up nicely all day under Ricky McRobert’s experience and the youngsters showed maturity beyond their years.”
The new year started in similar fashion to previous Inter and Apollo encounters with plenty of passionate fans making their voices heard around the fence. The home side threatened to score early on and after a number of missed chances Matthew Bueti opened his account with a successful penalty.
Despite the ominous start, Apollo took the fight to the defending champions and engaged in a tight arm wrestle for supremacy. The visitors threatened to get back on even terms, but young goalkeeper Tyler Johnston showed his worth by blocking a number of attacks including one Stewart Wallace penalty.
Zaccardo admitted the majority of the first half was a nail-biting affair. “We hit the ground running and with a bit of luck we scored first, but did not convert on every opportunity,” he said. “When you do not score you let the other side back in and Apollo settled around the first half.
“The game could have gone either way, but we were probably a bit more clinical and experienced and found our targets a lot easier.” The turning point of the match occurred early in the second half when Erike Irakoze produced some magic against his old club.
Inter was hungry captilise on a corner, but new Apollo goalkeeper James Kipping thought he denied the opportunity after punching the ball away.
However, no one anticipated Irakoze to fly behind the pack, scissor kick the ball over his head and find the back of the net in unforgettable style. Amid the wild Inter celebrations was a distraught Kipping, who injured his ankle in the mayhem and was forced off the ground.
The dramatic passage of play forced Apollo to use a makeshift goalkeeper, who struggled to keep out Inter’s relentless pressure. The home side enjoyed the weaker defence and consolidated the win with some late goals.
To complete a great day for the home side, the efforts of young keeper Johnston saw him awarded with the Tony Casadio Medal as the best player on the ground. Zaccardo said he impressed everyone with how rose to the occasion. “He had only played some small roles in the past, but after losing Brayden May, Tyler stepped in and saved a penalty to keep us in front,” he said.
“He just got more and more confidence as the game went on and rightfully was named as best player.” Inter now turns its attention to Naracoorte next weekend and Zaccardo is relieved to make the road trip with a win under his belt.