Elimination Finals Talking Points: Popa’s passionate reply to Aussie talent question – ‘That’s not enough’

These are the key talking points from the two Isuzu UTE A-League Elimination Finals as Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC progressed to the Semi-Finals.

Popa’s passionate response regarding Aussie talent: ‘That’s not enough’

There was a moment in Tony Popovic’s post-game press conference that gave an insight into the Melbourne Victory head coach’s thoughts around young talent in Australian football.

Ten-man Victory survived an unforgettable Elimination Final against rivals Melbourne City on Sunday night – Paul Izzo saved a first-half penalty and three in the shoot-out while converting one of his own to secure a nail-biting 3-2 win on penalties following a 1-1 draw.

PAUL IZZO’S BRILLIANT RESPONSE: ‘I was like ‘well there goes me!’

Some exciting young talents were at the heart of the incredible scenes at AAMI Park, where Victory had a numerical disadvantage since the 37th minute after Zinedine Machach was sent off but still managed to set up a two-legged Semi-Final against Wellington Phoenix.

Youngster Kasey Bos – the younger of Socceroos star Jordy – came off the bench and provided the assist for Nishan Velupillay’s 88th-minute equaliser, while he almost snatched the winner at the end of extra time. Jordi Valadon also came off the bench in a game that Ryan Teague started.

Popovic was asked about the state of Australia’s youth stocks after the Olyroos failed to qualify for this year’s Olympic Games in Paris, having failed to progress from the group phase of the AFC Under-23 Asian Cup.

HISTORY! Treble-chasing Central Coast Mariners claim AFC Cup title

“There’s talent there but also, players can’t get an A-League contract or appearance based on being young. That’s not enough,” insisted Popovic, who played for Crystal Palace and earned 58 international caps for the Socceroos.

“You have to have quality, character, determination. You have to want to do the hard work, the extra work that it takes to get to the top. Just being young isn’t enough to play.

“Saying we don’t have young players – probably because a lot of young players won’t put in the hard work. Do they have talent? They probably do but you have to work. Nothing is given to you.

“Kasey Bos trained for six months before he even got close to the first team and he trained with us everyday. That’s hard work. that’s determination and dedication.

“We can’t just hand out appearances, ‘Here, you’re young so have an appearance’. You have to earn it.

“We’re fortunate, I’m fortunate that I have a club that we’re seeing young players are growing. Franco Lino went overseas. (Nick) D’Agostino went overseas. Now we have young players coming through but they’ve earnt it. I haven’t given that to them. I haven’t played a young player because he’s young.

“No, they’re playing because they deserve it. The more of those we have, it makes the national team stronger. If we don’t have that, national teams won’t be stronger.”

Izzo was the hero in unbelievable scenes in Melbourne, where Popovic struggled to sum up his side’s extraordinary win initially post-match.

“It’s hard to put it in words at the moment. I’ve been blessed and lucky enough to experience some great moments as a coach, but I’m not sure if this can be surpassed,” Popovic told Network 10.

“With 10 men, it’s a derby, it’s elimination. The character, determination and quality of football too in those moments. Extremely proud.”

Meanwhile, Melbourne City counterpart Aurelio Vidmar looks set to remain with the club in 2024-25 after leading a new-look side to the Finals Series as interim head coach.

Vidmar was initially appointed on a deal until the end of 2023-24 following Rado Vidosic’s departure in November.

“Yep, that’s the plan,” Vidmar said when asked if he would be continuing in the role. “So we’ve had discussions and everything seems to be going fine at this point in time.

“Hopefully a decision will be made pretty soon…”

Cheeky moment TV cameras missed caps off Izzo’s all-time heroics 

What a night it was for Melbourne Victory’s Paul Izzo.

He saved not just one penalty in regulation but a further three in a shoot-out to earn a showdown with Wellington Phoenix, who will travel to AAMI Park for the opening leg on Sunday afternoon.

Izzo was a brick wall in one of the greatest goalkeeping performances in A-Leagues history. He was also apparently shred in a cheeky moment the TV cameras missed.

The Victory shot-stopper reportedly nicked City goalkeeper Jamie Young’s penalty notes during the shoot-out.

“If that’s the reason, why I don’t know,” Popovic said when asked about the reports.

“I didn’t see it. Knowing Paul, anything is possible.

“Paul didn’t have any notes. He knew what he wanted to do.”

Icon misses chance to write all-time Finals script 

Before Izzo saved Jimmy Jeggo’s penalty to send Victory through, retiring legend Leigh Broxham had a potentially fairytale moment to convert the match-winning penalty.

A late substitute in extra time, the veteran stepped up to take Victory’s fourth penalty as his family watched on excitedly.

However, Broxham missed his chance to cap an all-time moment as Young thwarted the 36-year-old though Victory still prevailed.

“I wish Broxy scored. I would’ve looked like a hero if that worked but now I’m not,” Popovic joked to Network 10.

“Hopefully he has another moment with us in these finals.”

Why Talay was ‘disappointed’ with Sydney despite 4-0 win and his praise of Lolley

Sydney FC cruised to a 4-0 win over Macarthur FC and set up a blockbuster showdown with premiers and defending champions Central Coast Mariners over the weekend.

Yet, Ufuk Talay was not completely satisfied… well, not initially on a night where injuries to Joe Lolley and Luke Brattan overshadowed the result.

After Robert Mak broke the deadlock in the eighth minute, Macarthur were controversially reduced to 10 men following a red card to Kealey Adamson.

While the Sky Blues went on to score three goals in the second half through Mak, Joe Lolley and Jaiden Kucharski, head coach Talay was not happy with the response to playing against 10 men.

“I thought we were quite comfortable when we went up. It was 11-v-11 with the ball,” he said in a post-game press conference.

“I was disappointed with the attitude and mentality when they went a man down. I thought the players dropped the intensity which hallowed Macarthur to have some moments at the back end of the first half.

“In the second half, we looked at it and showed them some clips from the first half and I think the mentality and attitude was great. I think we scored some really nice goals tonight.”

Before Lolley succumbed to an apparent hamstring injury, the Englishman sensationally found the back of the net with a classic Finals strike.

Lolley has scored 12 goals and supplied seven assists in 2023-24.

Asked whether he thought Lolley was underrated in the all-time conversation around foreigners in the A-Leagues, Talay replied: “Who is underrating him? I don’t underrate what Joe does.

“Joe’s been exceptional since the time he’s been at this club. He is very influential in what he does. He is very positive. It’s the way we want to play.

“He is aggressive when we don’t have the ball. He is positive when we do have the ball. He takes players on.

“Whether he loses the ball or not, it doesn’t bother me. As long as he’s being positive and trying to take players on and create those moments. That’s what we ask of all our players.

“I don’t know where the underrated statement comes from but he’s been exceptional.”

Talay added: “I don’t think we need to match him up with any other players. Joe is Joe. Joe’s his own character and has his own style of play. I think we should just embrace and enjoy what he does.”

As for Macarthur boss Mile Sterjovski – who was surprised by the red card in the first half, expressed his pride with the Bulls.

After finishing bottom last season, Macarthur bounced back to reach the finals while they also featured in the AFC Cup Zonal Finals.

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had,” said Sterjovski.

“I don’t think anyone gave us as a chance at the beginning of the season so to make the finals is a credit to the players and everyone invovled.

“We’re looking to build the club. We’re still only young. We’re still trying to build the fan base and make it a successful club.

“We know it starts on the pitch and trying to play attractive football, be successful and make finals year in, year out.”