A hat trick from star striker Yuseke Ueda propelled Wollongong Olympic to a comfortable 3-1 victory over Albion Park White Eagles in Sunday’s Illawarra Premier League qualifying final at Crehan Park.
The Japanese attacker continued his rampant regular season form, which saw him fire home 31 goals, with another starring performance to start the post-season.
He scored his first from the penalty spot in the opening half before capitalising on some loose defending in the second stanza to put Olympic in the box seat.
Park’s Hikaru Kawasakiya got one back for Park midway through the second half, but it wasn’t enough to stop Olympic.
Olympic coach George Antoniou was satisfied with his side’s performance, but believes they can still improve before next week’s blockbuster showdown with Bulli.
“I think we dominated the game but thought we fell into a hole a couple of times,” he said.
“We probably missed a couple of opportunities and let them back into the game a little bit. With good sides, you give them a chance and they hurt you but we got away with it today.”
Olympic were comfortably the better side in the first half but only had one goal to show for their efforts.
A clumsy challenge from Kane Wright on Julian Minutillo gave Ueda the chance to step up from 12 yards and the striker unsurprisingly made no mistake.
He had his hat-trick just nine minutes into the second half after Park fell asleep at the back.
In the 52nd minute Minutillo found Ueda unmarked in the box, allowing the striker to slip another past Chris Fuentes.
Just two minutes later the classy frontman toe-poked it past the keeper to put his side 3-0 in front.
Kawasakiya’s 65th minute header – just minutes after he hit the crossbar – gave Park some chance of a dramatic comeback, but Olympic’s defence held firm under late pressure.
“We absorbed a little bit of pressure towards the end quite well,” Antoniou said.
“Overall the way we moved the ball on a pitch that wasn’t conducive to doing that [was impressive]. The boys did well.”
Park coach Paul Carter took part of the blame for his side’s defeat, but was happy with how his men finished the contest.
“They overran us for the first half, but in the second half I made a tactical change and it backfired on us. I take responsibility for that,” he said.
“The last 25 minutes was when we really got into the game and we frightened them.
“They definitely deserved to win, there is no question but the last 25 I thought we were awesome.
“It would have been interesting if we got the second goal because I think they would have been panicking a little bit even though over the whole game they were the better side.”
Park will now take on Wollongong United next weekend while Bulli and Olympic face off for a spot in the grand final.