While the build-up to Melbourne Victory’s season opener was all about two famous returning Qantas Socceroos, it was a lower profile Australian representative who stole the limelight.
While the build-up to Melbourne Victory’s season opener was all about two famous returning Qantas Socceroos, it was a lower profile Australian representative who stole the limelight, and Ante Covic says he has no intention of handing over the keeping gloves when Tando Velaphi returns to full fitness.
Seven days ago, Covic was sitting in Sweden contemplating the end of the season and weighing up a return to the Hyundai A-League.
One SOS phone call from Melbourne got him on the plane back home, and in front of a crowd of over 40,000 on Saturday night at Etihad Stadium, he was the star of the show.
Covic, prior to Saturday night was most famous as either the No.3 goalkeeper in Socceroos’ 2006 World Cup campaign or as the Newcastle Jets custodian in the championship winning 2007/08 campaign, is now firmly a Victory fan favourite.
To stop a penalty from the boot of Brett Emerton was one thing, but Covic pulled off string of excellent saves, allaying concerns that he was only back home for a pension cheque as back-up keeper.
“They brought me back for a reason and I did the job tonight. So I’m pleased with that, Obviously there was a lot of hype about today’s game,” the 36-year-old said.
“I was out there doing my job and it came off really well, for me, I’m pleased.”
Coach Mehmet Durakovic could have been more delighted with the outcome of Victory’s mercy dash for an experienced stopper.
“I thought he had an outstanding game today. A credit to him, he was brilliant,” he said.
Velaphi, who had impressed in several pre-season hit outs, suffered a leg injury late last week which would rule him out for 10 weeks. He now must wonder if he’ll get another look in after Covic’s performance.
Certainly Covic is not in the mood to be charitable.
“When Tando got injured, it felt like the right thing to come back,” he said.
“I’m not coming back here as a stop gap, Tando when he gets back, is going to have to fight for his position. Otherwise I wouldn’t have come back.”
An experienced hand, who has played in Sweden, Greece and Croatia as well as in the NSL and the A-League, Covic feels the move to Melbourne, where there is such a buzz about the new recruits, is a great thing for him.
“When I look at the whole scheme of things, it was a really positive move to come back home, it felt like it was the right time, the right club and the right set-up. I’m very pleased,” he said.
The performance was even more meritorious when you consider that he has travelled halfway across the world in the past week. But Covic said the evening kick-off helped him ward off any tiredness.
“Thankfully, I’m alert in the evenings, it’s the mornings and the early afternoons that I’m still a little bit woozy,” he said.
Durakovic said he was happy with Kewell’s debut, with the superstar playing 90 minutes despite being what the coach termed was 75 percent fit.
He was also pleased with a spectacular league debut from Marco Rojas, while he confirmed Archie Thompson will require stiches to heal a wound on his leg received in a second-half tackle.