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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

Australia Cup 2023: Matricciani and Campbelltown City welcome A-League challenge of Macarthur

Campbelltown City is one of South Australia’s three representatives in the Australia Cup Round of 32. But unlike Adelaide United and MetroStars, they have been tasked with taking on A-Leagues opposition in Macarthur FC. Despite that fact, head coach Michael Matricciani, who spoke to Front Page Football in the lead-up to the game, says he welcomes the challenge.

Campbelltown City has been a force in South Australian football in 2023, and in the last decade; one that will undoubtedly challenge Macarthur FC. (Ken Carter)


Despite being South Australia’s premier NPL side in the last decade, recording five NPL SA Championships, three NPL SA Premierships, and one NPL National Championship since 2013, Campbelltown City will play only their second-ever Australia Cup game in 2023.


When Campbelltown progressed to the Round of 32 for the first time and played A-Leagues powerhouse Melbourne City, current coach and former player Michael Matricciani was at Steve Woodcock Sports Centre as a spectator. He spoke about that day and how significant such events are for an ambitious club like Campbelltown City.


“I was here (at Steve Woodcock Sports Centre) as a spectator in 2019 when they played against Melbourne City, and that was an outstanding night; there was about 3,000-3,500 people packed in at Campbelltown," Matricciani shared with FPF.


“Getting onto the national stage is definitely a big reward for the club and all its members, all the way to its juniors and all its volunteers that put in so much work; we are really looking forward to that night.”


Like the competition's 2019 edition, Campbelltown has been handed an A-Leagues opponent; Australia Cup holders Macarthur FC, a club ironically based in Sydney’s Campbelltown. Despite being given a mountain to climb from the offset, Matricciani said his reaction to the draw was “excellent” because he hoped to draw one of Australia and New Zealand’s 12 professional men's clubs.


“For me, it’s a win-win situation,” Matricciani shared on his side’s draw.


“We will hopefully be getting a big crowd, and we know that part of the draw is that if you draw an A-League side, you always get a home game, so that is a big plus for the club. It is a great opportunity for our playing group to test themselves, both collectively and individually, against an A-League side and a team and players that are so-called “better” than us and the level that we are [in the] NPL.


“Pressure situations and big challenges like that is where you see the true character amongst the players; can they handle that pressure? Can they still have that same belief to be able to play and have the courage to do the things that we have been working on and that we do in our local NPL competition?”

Campbelltown City celebrates a goal against Melbourne City in their first Australia Cup tie in the competition's 2019 edition. (Adam Butler/80kms)


The occasion is significant for Matricciani and his side, who get to take on A-Leagues opposition. But it is even more special for the coach, with the draw throwing up a coincidental matchup for two young managers studying together for their Pro License.


"It is a great opportunity for me personally because I am currently doing my Pro License with Mile Sterjovski, the coach of Macarthur; we are in the same group as well, and we were actually joking that maybe we will get to play against each other, and a week later the draw was done!" Matricciani said.


"They (Macarthur) obviously had to play Perth Glory first, but they got over the line, so I am looking forward to coaching against Mile as well because we have become friends and got to know each other over the past few months while we have been doing our Pro Licenses."


In Macarthur, Campbelltown may be facing the defending Australia Cup champions. But it is a side that endured an extremely disappointing 2022/23 campaign since their triumph. The Bulls finished last on the A-League Men's ladder. They parted ways with manager Dwight Yorke early in the season, ironically after a loss in South Australia against Adelaide United.


Mile Sterjovski's promotion to head coach may not have provided the instant impact Macarthur hoped for. But enough was shown for the young coach to earn the job permanently. A young Macarthur side took on Perth Glory for the right to qualify for the Australia Cup in July, and the improvements from the last campaign were already evident.


Led by an array of young players in Rhys Youlley, Raphael Borges Rodrigues, Jake Hollman, Jed Drew, Isaac Hovar, Oliver Jones, and Alex Robinson, Macarthur produced a clinic of counterattacking football to qualify with a solid four-goal victory over their Western Australian counterparts. Despite his side's opponents looking formidable, Matricciani focuses on what his team can do to make life hard for their opposition tomorrow night.


"For me, in these matches, it is all about us; it is all about focusing on ourselves; we don’t know what team they’re going to put out and how they’re going to play, so for me, it is just about us and how we can best prepare our players mentally, physically, and have the belief to play our football and take it to them. Like I said, we have nothing to lose, so we are going to go and give it our best crack; hopefully, on the night, we get a bit of luck, and it goes our way," he said.

 

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Matricciani (bottom row, second from left), can be seen here celebrating the 2013 NPL SA Championship as a player for Campbelltown City. (Adam Butler/80kms)


Having been involved with Campbelltown City since the beginning of their decade-long dynasty, Matricciani believes the club's winning culture can drive them to success against their fancied opposition. With an experienced spine comprised of Daniel Mullen, Jordan Maricic, Alex Mullen, Joe Allwright, Adam Piscioneri, and exciting attacking players like Shogo Yoshikawa, Yohei Matsumoto, Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio, and Marc Marino, Campbelltown can give most teams in Australia a run for their money on their day.


"It is that self-belief that this team has, not only as individuals but collectively and broader through the club with the Chairman and the previous coaches that have instilled this mentality into Campbelltown. It doesn’t matter who we come up against; we want to dictate the game; we want to dominate and play really attractive football," Matricciani said.


"We like to create, score goals, and be on the front foot. That is why I mentioned before that it is a really good opportunity to play an A-League side and show those characteristics and that quality."


After falling short of the NPL SA premiership against North East rivals MetroStars on Friday night, Campbelltown City will have extra motivation to record a positive result in the Australia Cup. A strong showing may lead to a new chapter written in Australian football history and be vital preparation for the NPL SA Finals Series, as the Red Devils plan to spoil Metro's plans to sweep all three trophies in 2023.


Click here to read more of FPF's Australia Cup coverage!

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