OFF the back of the junior Country Championships on the weekend, the buzz for soccer players and fans will continue today, when the elimination and qualifying finals are played across all grades.
In the senior competition, a top-of-the-table clash between International and Gambier Centrals at Bishop Road will determine which side will earn a ticket straight into the decider in a few short weeks.
At the other end of town, Blue Lake will host Apollo in a battle between the third and fourth-place finishers.
That game will see one club progress to next week’s preliminary final in Naracoorte, while the other will watch the remainder of the finals series from the sidelines.
International v Gambier Centrals
THE two heavyweights of the 2018 Limestone Coast soccer season are undeniably those set to lock horns in the qualifying final.
International has backed up its undefeated 2017 season and is yet to drop a game this year, while the guidance of coach Nathan Fleetwood has seen Centrals go from strength to strength.
For the black and blue the combination of Matt Bueti, captain Christian Cella and Dan Bronca will be a daunting prospect for Centrals defenders.
The three have been in blinding form and not only lead their club’s goal kickers, but make up the top three of the senior league tally.
Bueti is in red-hot form and has an impressive 38 goals to his name for the year.
Cella has also excelled with 21 so far, while Bronca sits level with Blue Lake’s Yuki Akita on 17.
Add to the mix the defensive and midfield prowess shown by the likes of Josh Grubb, Lachlan Charlton and Nick Morony and the Inter squad is dangerous all over the ground.
For Centrals, Fleetwood will hope to make an impact in front of goals.
He has racked up 16 goals this season, despite injury seeing him play half games or not at all earlier in the year.
Lewis March and captain Cameron Saint are also dangerous in front of goals, through the middle or down a wing.
The likes of Calen Sheedy and Craig Wright also provide plenty of talent, while youngsters Brayden Coppick and Jasper Whitehead have shown great potential.
The last time the sides met was a two-all draw at Casadio Park in Round 8, with the previous game going Inter’s way 3-0.
Anything could happen today and if both teams bring their best, it will be a match not to miss.
Blue Lake v Apollo
THE last time Blue Lake and Apollo went head-to-head the result was a two-all draw at Webb Street in Round 9, but this time the Rangers will have the home ground advantage.
The previous clash saw a narrow 2-1 win to Blue Lake, but that was back in Round 1 and Apollo has been on the rise since then.
Its junior talent has shone through in the second half of the season, with the likes of Harry Wilson, Adam Walker, Bailey Musci and Adam Richards holding their own on the senior stage.
The experience of the senior leaders within the squad has also been a highlight, with captain Tom Inglis leading the backline with Cameron Wallace, while Stewart Wallace controls the midfield, often driving forwards to score.
Erike Irakoze is also at the top end of Apollo’s goal scorers and will hope to use his pace again on Sunday.
For Blue Lake, its even spread of scorers this year can make it hard to predict who to expect in front of goal.
However, Yuki Akita is undoubtedly the most dangerous target, as he leads the team’s goal kicking with 17 for the season, also putting him third in the league count.
Jacob Ellis has been in good form of late and will hold firm in the backline or through the middle, while the likes of Si Pler and Doh Say hold up the midfield and are capable of driving the ball forward into goal.
With both sides having also proven capable against Inter and Centrals, this match will be a tightly-contested clash between two teams desperate to keep their finals dreams alive.