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Maher sees bright future for Asian women’s club game

Yongin: Melbourne Victory’s Grace Maher said she hopes the AFC Women’s Club Championship becomes a regular part of the Asian football calendar, after she became the first player from an Australian club to score a goal at the Continental level on Thursday.

Maher opened the scoring in her side’s 1-1 draw with Chinese champions Jiangsu Suning to write her name into the history books and the promising midfielder sees a future where many more players will have the chance to follow in her footsteps.

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“I hope (the tournament) only gets better,” said the former Australian U-19 international.

“I hope it becomes just like the men’s (AFC Champions League), with group stages and home and away games. I think that would be incredible growth for Australian football if we can continue to compete at this level and get experience playing against different styles of football."

Matchday 2: Jiangsu Suning Ladies Football Club vs Melbourne Victory

“(The team from) China has already been different to Korea, and I’m assuming (Nippon TV Beleza) will be, again, a different challenge.

“I think it’s going to grow football. If we can have games on our home soil it’s going to make our travel and our lives a little bit easier, because obviously we’re the furthest (away) for travel.

“I think it’s a great initiative and I hope it’s only the start, and I hope it turns out to be something that everyone treasures and wants to play in.”

Only 20 but already five years into her top-flight club career, Maher was one of several young players in Melbourne’s side against Jiangsu, with 16-year-old debutants Alana Jancevski and Paige Zois among the players who took the field for Jeff Hopkins’ side.

Maher said Victory played with conviction despite their relative lack of experience.

“I’m still a young player myself and when the confidence is instilled by the coach, you play with no fear,” she said.

“We had some debutants today, in goal, in the midfield and up front, and they played their hearts out and everyone else around backed them. I think that really showed today. It was a really wholesome performance by the whole team.”

Maher was pleased to be the one to score Victory’s history-making goal, a clever near-post header after a corner kick delivery from Melina Ayres, but it was the side’s overall performance which brought her the most satisfaction.

“(Scoring the first goal for an Australian club in Asia is) always something I will treasure when I look back on my career, but I think more importantly that was a really resilient performance by the girls,” declared Maher.

“We grew as a team, we defended hard and we can be proud as a team that we dug in and we came away with a draw."

Photos: Korea Football Association

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