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Kouakou stars as Gwelup go national. Photo by FotoEnzo

Kouakou stars as Gwelup go national

Report by Edward Nixon

Gwelup Croatia booked their ticket to the FFA Cup national Round of 32 and a Belt up. State Cup final clash against Armadale with a convincing 4-1 win over Floreat Athena on Monday.

Benjamin Kouakou netted two stunning free-kicks, while Victor Brauner and David Heagney also got on the scoresheet for the Division One outfit.

Floreat skipper Dean Evans’ free-kick brought Floreat level in the second-half, before Gwelup hit the visitors with three goals in the final 20 minutes to knock out their third NPL WA side.

“We’ve worked very hard to get to this stage. I’m very proud of my teammates and very proud of the supporters,” two-goal hero Kouakou said.

Having tasted their first league win since April just two days before, Floreat were full of confidence and jumped out of the blocks early – Evans forcing Gwelup goalkeeper Riley Stephenson into two smart saves in the opening 10 minutes.

As the game moved on, though, the hosts began to look dangerous on the counter. Kouakou gave a warning of what was to come by going close on two occasions and he posed a constant threat down the right.

Kouakou stars as Gwelup go national. Photo by FotoEnzo

Gwelup’s pressure paid off just after the half-hour mark when Athena keeper Jason Saldaris parried Kouakou’s low shot into the path of Brauner, who tapped home from close range.

Kouakou almost doubled his side’s advantage on the stroke of half-time as he tried to catch Saldaris napping at his near post.

Keen to avoid a cup upset, Floreat came out with a fire in their belly after the break and Ludovic Boi wasn’t far off an equaliser.

As in their weekend win over ECU Joondalup, Athena were a threat at set-pieces and that was their route back into the contest when Evans curled a free-kick into the bottom corner past the diving Stephenson.

The set-piece was the second Evans scored in three days and suddenly Floreat were back in the tie.

But Gwelup hadn’t come this far without being up for a challenge and they regained the lead with a free-kick of their own when Kouakou’s well-weighted effort found the back of the net 20 minutes from time.

Kouakou stars as Gwelup go national. Photo by FotoEnzo

There was a sense of deja vu 10 minutes later when Kouakou stepped up to bury another free-kick past Saldaris to send the home crowd into hysteria.

Stephenson produced a late acrobatic save to prevent Evans from scoring his second free-kick of the game before Heagney – the hero of the win over Subiaco in the previous round – made sure of the result with a clever finish two minutes from time.

Having disposed of Cockburn City, Subiaco and now Floreat, few would bet against Gwelup adding Armadale to their list of NPL WA scalps in the Belt up. State Cup final at Dorrien Gardens on July 14.

And few A-League sides will relish an out-of-season trip to face Gwelup in the FFA Cup.

Gwelup Croatia 4 (Brauner 31min, Kouakou 70, 80, Heagney 88)
Floreat Athena 1 (Evans 57)
Croatian Sporting Complex
Monday, June 4
Kick-off: 2.30pm
Referee: Josh Mannella
Assistant referees: Martin Hicks, Stephen Knight
Fourth official: Tom Glavovic 

Gwelup Croatia SC: 2. Michael PUGLIESE, 4. Cameron YORKE, 5. Kwangmook LIM, 6. Brodie MARTIN, 7. James SAMMUT, 9. David HEAGNEY, 10. Benjamin KOUAKOU, 11. Isaac KOOMSON, 14. Victor BRAUNER, 20. Bobby WILSON, 98. Riley STEPHENSON (GK)
Substitutes not used: 1. Connor CAMPBELL (RGK), 3. Nelson TSHONGO, 12. Noah SHAMAKI, 16. Stephen O’LEARY, 17. Sebastian MUNOZ
Yellow cards: Kouakou (76), Shamaki (78)
Red cards: Nil

Floreat Athena: 1. Jason SALDARIS (GK),  2. Marco SANTA LUCIA, 4. Andrew SCALDAFERRO (11. Dennis GALAN 46), 6. Jessie FULLER, 8. Jonathan STYNES, 10. Calvin WHITNEY, 14. Ludovic BOI (12. Ahadi ABANDELWA 51), 15. Chris SALDARIS, 17. Dean EVANS, 18. Philip ARNOLD, 21. Keylun POLLARD
Substitutes not used: 13. Hamza HINA, 23. Jordan BARBAS (RGK)
Yellow cards: Saldaris (68)
Red cards: Nil