There's something special about Calem Nieuwenhof. Sydney FC fans who stayed up late to watch their fruitless AFC Champions League campaign already knew it – and now everyone else does too.
Nieuwenhof played every minute of every match for the Sky Blues played across late November and early December in Qatar and never once looked out of place amongst Asia's elite, even though he had never played senior professional football before.
Calem Nieuwenhof scores a goal on debut for Sydney FC.Credit:Fox Sports
Saturday's 2-1 win over Wellington Phoenix was his A-League debut, but again, you wouldn't have known it, so smooth and faultless was the 19-year-old's midfield play. His teammates call him "Sleepy", because he's so laconic and relaxed it always seems as if he's only half-awake. But there's no sleeping on this kid.
If you didn't notice his subtle work on and off the ball, you definitely would have noticed his 29th-minute blockbuster, which was surely one of the best goals ever scored by a debutant anywhere in the world.
Nieuwenhof, who is a product of Sydney's northern beaches, found himself with time and space around five metres out from the edge of Sydney's attacking area at WIN Stadium in Wollongong. No Phoenix player seemed to be in any rush to close him down, so he took a touch, moved forward and unleashed.
From the moment it left his boot, Nieuwenhof's shot looked destined for the top corner. It floated beautifully in the air past a helpless Stefan Marinovic, the New Zealand international goalkeeper, and rifled into the back of the net.
Luke Brattan’s free kick goal also shouldn’t be sniffed at.Credit:Fox Sports
And so a star was born. This A-League season was always going to be about the emergence of a new generation of young players, but it's worth getting out to see Nieuwenhof while you still can, because he seems bound for bigger and better things very soon.
Nieuwenhof's goal wasn't the only stunner scored on Saturday. His midfield partner, Luke Brattan, also produced a 30-metre pearler of a free kick midway through the second half to seal a deserved victory for the reigning A-League champions, who have made a typically impressive start to their hunt for a record third consecutive grand final win.
In between those two strikes was one that Fox Sports' cameras failed to pick up because of a technical glitch – Wellington's equaliser.
It was a passage of play that Sydney's defence would like to see erased from the public's collective memory, too, as Mirza Muratovic bundled home a rather innocuous cross from the right flank under little to no pressure, his effort trickling across Andrew Redmayne and going in off the left upright.
The Phoenix fielded a weakened starting team, with star recruit Tomer Hemed and new captain Ulises Davila introduced off the bench because of fitness concerns. But they should grow into the new season – a bit like they grew into this match – and to their credit, the Kiwis kept pushing for a second goal and thought they had one in added time through Davila that was rightly chalked off by the VAR for offside.
Saturday's game, however, will be remembered for one moment from one player in particular, and for Australia's sake, it's hopefully just the first of many more highlights to come.
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