After young players flourished in the A-League’s opening week, Central Coast coach Alen Stajcic says Australian football is poised to reap the benefits of the opportunities the coronavirus pandemic has given its rising stars.
After scrambling to adjust fixtures amid border closures, the A-League’s first few games nonetheless provided sublime goals, entertainment, some bustling crowds in smaller stadiums and a desperately needed breath of fresh air.
One team leaning heavily on youth, Central Coast won two games in the space of four days, beating Newcastle 1-0 on Thursday and Macarthur 2-0 on Sunday to take outright top spot.
All three of their opening-week goalscorers are aged 23 or younger.
“From a national team perspective I think in five or 10 years’ time, COVID’s going to be the biggest blessing we’ve ever had,” Stajcic said.
“It’s probably something we’ve been talking about in football for a long time from a national teams perspective.
“We’ll reap these rewards down the track of all these kids that are now getting opportunities that we all hoped they would’ve got earlier in the A-League.
“Their pathway’s basically been blocked due to the number of teams and the number of positions within each team, the foreigners always taking up the key spots.”
The rejuvenated Mariners will also soon be bolstered by foreign signings Michal Janota, Marcos Urena and Stefan Jankovic who have been in hotel quarantine.
On Sunday, the Mariners, wooden spooners in four of the previous five seasons, struck the first blow in the 35th minute via a superb Daniel De Silva strike, then snared a second goal via 20-year-old Jordan Smylie in the closing minutes to spoil Macarthur’s first home game.
Later in the day Adelaide leapt to second on the table with a 2-0 win over Melbourne City at Coopers Stadium.
After City captain Scott Jamieson received his marching orders for a second yellow card, Reds signing Tomi Juric smacked home the opener in the 66th minute, with captain Stefan Mauk adding a second goal 10 minutes later.
On Saturday, stunning long-range strikes from teenage midfielder Calem Nieuwenhof and Luke Brattan helped Sydney FC to a 2-1 win over Wellington, with Phoenix youngster Mirza Muratovic also scoring.
Meanwhile Brisbane bounced back from Tuesday night’s 1-0 loss to Melbourne City with a superb second-half driving a 3-1 win over Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
Scott McDonald, Macauley Gillesphey and Dylan Wenzel-Halls were all on target for the Roar while Victory signing Callum McManaman scored a terrific solo effort.
Earlier in the week, Macarthur opened their A-League account with a 1-0 win over Western Sydney while Western United and Adelaide United drew 0-0 first-up.