Asia AFC Cup

Youngster Di Pizio Inspires Mariners to AFC Cup Final

Australia’s Central Coast Mariners secured their place in the final of the 2023/24 AFC Cup by delivering a commanding 3-0 victory over FK Abdysh-Ata Kant from Kyrgyzstan in the second leg of the Inter-Zone final on Wednesday.

The match at Central Coast Stadium in Gosford saw a goalless first half, with both teams vying for control. However, it was 18-year old youth prospect Miguel Di Pizio who broke the deadlock for the hosts in the 78th minute, setting the stage for a flurry of goals. Mikael Doka extended the lead before Di Pizio struck again, sealing a convincing 4-1 aggregate win for the Mariners and securing their spot in the title clash against Lebanon’s Al Ahed on May 5.

Despite a dominant performance by Abdysh-Ata in the first leg, the Mariners showcased their prowess in possession in front of their home crowd. Alou Kuol’s pace posed a constant threat, and although the Kyrgyz side grew into the game, they struggled to breach the Mariners’ defense.

Abdysh-Ata had their chances, notably with Atai Dzhumashev’s effort from the edge of the box, but Mariners’ goalkeeper Danny Vukovic remained solid. Meanwhile, Central Coast created opportunities of their own, with Doka testing Abdysh-Ata’s custodian Marsel Islamkulov.

The breakthrough came when Doka set up Di Pizio, whose initial attempt was thwarted by Islamkulov, only for Di Pizio to capitalize on the rebound and slot the ball into the net. Doka then added to the tally with a well-taken shot in the 86th minute, before Di Pizio sealed the victory in stoppage time, capitalizing on a defensive error.

By winning their Inter-Zone final match, Central Coast Mariners became only the third Australian side to have made it to a final of an Asian club competition, following Adelaide United in the 2008 AFC Champions League and Western Sydney Wanderers in the 2014 AFC Champions League. And with the 2023/24 season marking 10 years since the Wanderers lifted Australia’s first and so far only Asian club competition title, the Mariners will be more than eager to follow in their New South Wales rivals’ footsteps in tasting continental glory.