Corey Hugo played the starring role when Western Australia faced the might of Red Star Belgrade on the evening of 28 January 2001. But despite the goalkeeper’s heroics, the Yugoslav giants scored at either end of the 90 minutes to claim a 2-0 victory in front of 4,000 supporters at Litis Stadium.
Mihajlo Pjanovic opened the scoring after 5 minutes with Dragan Stevanovic sealing victory with the last kick of the game. In between, Swan IC custodian Hugo turned away a succession of efforts to frustrate Red Star in the third game of their Australian tour.
“I thought it was a supreme effort all round, especially when you consider the guys have had just two and a half weeks in training,” said State coach Paul Wormley in praising a gallant Western Australian team whose preparation for the friendly was limited.
“It really shows the character of our guys because they did contain Red Star for parts of the game … It’s a crying shame we conceded that late goal because I think 1-0 would have been a lot more respectable result when you look at it down the track.”
Red Star arrived in Australia sitting jointly atop the First League of FR Yugoslavia alongside cross-town rivals FK Partizan. Five months later they would claim their 23rd league title after pulling two points clear of Partizan over the second half of the season.
Amongst their touring party were six Yugoslav internationals including club captain Goran Bunjevcevic and goalkeeper Aleksander Kocic, Slovenian striker Milenko Acimovic and fellow marksman Goran Drulic, who six months later signed with then La Liga club Real Zaragoza for €12.8 million.
For Western Australia, the game was played out-of-season with the annual Night Series tournament still three weeks from commencing. And Wormley endured an interrupted preparation which included the late cancellation of two training sessions while several players withdrew from the squad leading into the fixture.
The home players were still settling into the pace of the game when Pjanovic drilled in from 12-metres following an exhibition-like exchange of passes. It was a sign of things to come from the Yugoslav side whose crisp passing and sharp movement allowed them to control much of the 90 minutes.
Hugo stepped into the spotlight for the first time with a great reflex save to thwart Ivan Gvozdenovic. The Red Star striker was given another chance when the ball came to him at the resulting corner, however, before he could react the ‘keeper had pinched it off his boot.
The visitors were well in the ascendency when Blaze Georgioski hammered wide from distance after 24 minutes. And shortly after Pjanovic was denied a second goal by Hugo’s instinctive flying save which kept out his opponents strike from an acute angle.
Western Australia’s first opening arrived after 28 minutes when Louis Parkinson looped a cross to Sandy Robertson, who volleyed over the crossbar. Hugo was called upon again to keep out a low, long-range attempt from Leo Lerino after he’d out-witted two defenders.
Georgioski blasted high as the home defence worked on restricting their opponents to shots from outside the 18-yard box. And on the few occasions Red Star did get inside the area, Hugo came to the rescue such as when he pounced to capture Georgioski’s low centre.
Red Star emerged for the second half with eleven fresh players much to the disappointment of Wormley, who’d learned only 30 minutes prior to kick-off that his opposite number, Slavoljub Musli, would make use of his entire squad. Western Australia had just four out-field players on the bench.
The re-shuffle that brought about initially swung the momentum in favour of the gold and black. An audacious long-range strike by Robertson was agonisingly high before Craig Surtees’ dipping effort from 30-metres rebounded back into play off the underside of the crossbar.
But the new-look Red Star slowly regained their composure, and control over proceedings. With Branko Boskovic asserting authority in the centre of the park, the Yugoslav club continually surged forward where they were held at bay by a determined Western Australian backline.
Troy Bernard was super-cool throughout in his role as sweeper, making several crucial tackles and interceptions, while Scott Broadley and Aaron Cole also played key roles as the hosts acted quickly to negate their opponents attacking thrusts.
Entering the final quarter hour and Red Star took their game up a notch. Vladislav Mirkovic appeared set to widen the margin until Hugo threw himself at the ball to concede a corner. Play temporarily swung to the other end where Kevin Correia finished disappointingly after good lead-up work by fellow substitute Jamie Kuzmanovic.
As the game ticked over into stoppage time, Hugo responded to Nenad Miljkovic’s powerful close-range header with a spectacular reflex save. But there was little the State custodian could do a minute later when Stevanovic blasted in his teams’ second goal from only a few metres.
The win over Western Australia was part of Red Star’s six-game January/February 2001 tour of Australia. The Yugoslav side defeated Bonnyrigg White Eagles 3-0 and Adelaide City Force 2-1 prior to heading west. They completed the tour without loss after accounting for Marconi 4-1, Rockdale City Suns 4-0 and Fitzroy City 3-1.
Western Australia 0
Red Star Belgrade 2 (Mihajlo Pjanovic 5, Dragan Stevanovic 90+)
Western Australia (squad): Corey Hugo, Troy Bernard, Aaron Cole, Scott Broadley, Craig Surtees, Paul Cooke, Doug Ithier, Sandy Robertson, Steve White, Trim Morgan, Louis Parkinson; Alan Dunlop, Steve MacDonald, Jamie Kuzmanovic, Todd Howarth, Kevin Correia
Red Star Belgrade (squad): Aleksander Kocic, Petar Djenjic, Ivan Vukomanovic, Goran Bunjevcevic, Ivan Gvozdenovic, Dejan Ilic, Leo Lerino, Blaze Georgioski, Milenko Acimovic, Mihajlo Pjanovic, Jovan Markoski; Dejan Pesic, Marjan Markovic, Mirko Bunjevcevic, Vladimir Matijasevic, Stevo Glogovac, Nenad Lalatovic, Nenad Miljkovic, Branko Boskovic, Dragan Stevanovic, Goran Drulic, Vladislav Mirkovic
Officials: Eddie Lennie, Patrick McCaffrey, Frank Moretti