Monday, 25 September 2006 12:34 AM
By Michael Tsoukalis
South Melbourne have reclaimed their rightful position at the pinnacle of Victorian Football, winning their 8th Victorian championship with a hard fought, yet dominant 1-0 triumph against the Altona Magic.
South hung onto a solitary goal created by a superb Fernando Moraes cross which was met by youngster Gianni De Nittis who made no mistake in emphatically smashing home his 63rd minute header from point blank range to ultimately hand South the Championship.
South sprung an early surprise with the inclusion on the bench of young winger Vasilios Natsioulas. Natsioulas had suffered what was thought to be a season-ending injury against Oakleigh toward the latter stages of the season. However, the youngster managed to recover just in time to take his place on the South bench.
As assumed, Coach John Anastasiadis fielded the exact same lineup that managed to defeat Altona in the semi final stage. 2006 Goalkeeper of the year Dean Anastasiadis began in goals with a central defensive pairing of Dino Djulbic and Tansel Baser in front of him. The right and left back roles were patrolled by Rama Tavsancioglu and Sammy DeVito respectively. In the centre of the park Antonio Naglieri lined up in his usual defensive midfield role with Scot MacNicol playing in the more attacking advanced role. Out wide, George Tzirtis started on the right flank whilst Brazilian maestro Fernando Moraes started on the left. Up front, the diminutive Andreas Oliveira continued his partnership with rising youngster Gianni De Nittis.
South started the game more brightly, dominating possession and generally seeming to be bossing the play. Only six minutes had passed when MacNicol won a tussle down the right side of the Altona box and sent in a deep back-post cross that was met by Naglieri who sent his header into the side netting. It was an early warning for the Magic who from the onset seemed content to soak up the pressure.
Chances were hard to carve out but Moraes did his best after 18 minutes, sending a 20 yard “daisy-cutter” towards goal that forced Altona keeper Bojo Jevdjevic into a sharp save down low.
Twenty-four minutes in and South should’ve gone ahead. Moraes had managed to get to the bi-line down the right hand side of the Altona box and whipped in a perfect back-post cross that Djulbic met with a quality header. The ball looked destined for the back of the net but somehow Jevdjevic miraculously flung his body at the ball and managed to deflect it onto the upright and out of danger. It was the sort of inspired save that can deflate confidence and make players second-guess their destiny for the day, but to the South player’s credit, they continued to dominate proceedings.
South continued to dominate possession in the 2nd half and kept waiting for the right opportunity to pounce. The chance came in the 55th minute after a South corner from the right fell to Baser, who shimmied before firing a shot that was blocked by the Altona defence. The ball fell to De Nittis who immediately played it wide to Moraes, the Brazilian produced a perfect cross into the 6 yard box that saw an unmarked Oliveira, although slightly stretching; send his reaching header onto the roof of the net with Jevdjevic beaten.
South were showing a great deal of maturity in controlling the contest and carved out another decent opening after 60 minutes. Again a quality ball from the right was met by De Nittis who had much to do with his eventual volleyed attempt across his body just failing to hit the target.
The South faithful were beginning to get a bit restless with John Anastasiadis’s men dominating and creating good openings but failing to show their superiority on the scoreboard.
South was calling for some inspiration and it was none other than Brazilian maestro Fernando Moraes who provided it after 63 minutes. Stuck down the left corner of the pitch and with seemingly no space to move, Moraes’s trickery saw him work some space and produce a stunning left foot cross into the heart of the 6 yard box. De Nittis had stormed past his marker and was first to the ball to power home a text-book header, sending the majority pro-South crowd into delirium but more importantly, giving South a deserved lead.
By now the game had opened up fully and South were insistent on putting it beyond doubt by scoring a second. Some brilliant interplay on the edge of the area in the 77th minute saw the ball fall to Tzirtis who from 20 yards out and with plenty of time, failed to get his dipping strike on target.
The Magic tried to lift their tempo but the resolute and disciplined South defence was not letting anything get past reducing Altona to having to rely on set pieces to produce any attacking threat.
South brought on Natsioulas in the 73rd minute for MacNicol in order to inject some freshness and enthusiasm down the right wing with the youngster immediately showing his desire for the occasion by providing an outlet down the right.
After 79 minutes an Altona free kick from well outside the box was chipped into a dangerous area that saw a Magic player meet the ball on the volley and nearly chip Anastasiadis who was thankful to the see the ball go over the crossbar.
Altona were then reduced to ten men when after having made all their 3 substitutes, they lost another player through serious injury.
The Magic did however force a decent save out of Anastasiadis in the 87th minute when, backed by a gale-force wind, ex-Perth Glory player Daniel Vasilevski produced a stunning 30 yard effort that was headed for the top right-hand corner but was always covered by Anastasiadis who even though was scurrying, managed to tip the ball over and out for a corner.
South could’ve added another during stoppages when Natsioulas released Oliveira down the right hand side of the Altona box with South in a 3-on-2 position. Oliveira chose to cut inside and try and curl his effort around Jevdjevic, but unfortunately for South the ex-Morwell Falcons custodian gloved easily with Oliveira perhaps better offer squaring the ball back to Natsioulas who had an open shot from 12 or so yards out.
Oliveira’s miss however was instantly forgotten when referee Damir Basic whistled the end of proceedings, signaling the return of Australia’s most historic club back to the pinnacle of the state football and just reward for all the players, coaching staff, board members and supporters, who managed to resurrect South back to its rightful standing after nearly facing extinction just a short 2 and a half years ago.