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They dominated 90 minutes of regular time but Wellington Phoenix’s hopes of grabbing an historic title were scuttled by Melbourne Victory in a dramatic penalty shootout in the 2008 Pre-Season Cup final in Wellington.
The climax at Westpac Stadium had the bumper crowd of 9208 on their feet as the Victory took the season’s first piece of silverware 8-7 on penalties, shooting down the Phoenix’s hopes of becoming the first New Zealand-based club in the Hyundai A-League to win a title.
While the disappointment in the Phoenix changeroom was palpable, coach Ricki Herbert still had a small smile on his face after his side clearly held the ascendancy throughout regular time, which ended goalless despite several terrific chances for the hosts.
“I thought we were good tonight and we certainly did enough to win it,” Herbert said. “I don’t think it should have gone to penalties, to be fair. But as we stand now we’ve gone through the pre-season unbeaten, outside the penalty shootout, and we didn’t concede during the 90 minutes tonight. So, overall, it was very good.”
Still, the Phoenix were left to rue what might have been. The back four, led by skipper Jon McKain, was rarely troubled and midfield anchors Richard Johnson and Michael Ferrante controlled possession superbly and starved Victory of the ball.
But it was Victory keeper Michael Theoklitos who made all the difference, pulling off two spectacular saves in the second half to keep the Victory in the game before ultimately proving the hero for the visitors in the marathon penalty showdown.
Theoklitos’ first big save came in the 67th minute when he got his fingertips to deflect Johnson’s swerving left-footed volley from the edge of the box after it looked the ball was all but in. The Melbourne keeper then pulled out another super effort in the 80th minute, diving to stop Shane Smeltz’s goal-bound header.
Victory coach Ernie Merrick had no doubt about who made the difference for his side.
“When your goalkeeper’s really the best player on your team you know it hasn’t been your best performance. But the Phoenix just came at us right from the start – they were up for it. They did a fantastic job and played really good football.”
With the sides deadlocked after 90 minutes the final went to a shootout. It was Theoklitos who again rose the big occasion when he saved Karl Dodd’s penalty – the 18th attempt of the shootout – to seal the win.
Phoenix skipper Jon McKain said plenty of positives came out of the match for the Wellington side.
“We’re disappointed, obviously. We wanted to perform well in front of our home crowd and I certainly think we did that. We kept the ball well for large periods of the game, we’ve got no major injuries and we got another 90 minutes under our belts against quality opposition.
“Their keeper was man-of-the-match and I think that says everything about how we played the game. That’s football, though. We went to penalties and penalties are always a bit of a lottery.”
The Phoenix now turn their attention to the main course – their Hyundai A-League 2008/09 season-opener against the Queensland Roar at home in Wellington.
“I’m really proud that the team has been able to make the final,” Herbert said. “But we’ve never lost sight of our main focus and everything we have achieved during the pre-season has been geared toward August 17. Everyone can take a bit of a deep breath now; we’re 10 days away from the main competition starting.”
Merrick was full of praise for the Phoenix and certain the Wellington side would do well this season.
“Ricki’s got the boys well drilled – they were up for it right from the start, highly motivated.
“It’s going to be tough coming here [to Wellington]. The crowd was sensational – so supportive, a great group of people. New Zealand football is looking really good. With this venue, the crowd behind them, they’ll be a finals team this year – I have no doubt about that.”
2008 Pre-Season Cup Final
Wellington Phoenix 0
Melbourne Victory 0 (Melbourne Victory win on penalties 8-7)
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
Referee: Peter O'Leary
Assistant Referees: Brent Best and Glen Lochrie
Fourth Official: Mark Rule
Wellington Phoenix: 20.Glen Moss (gk), 4.Jon McKain (captain), 5.Karl Dodd, 7.Leo Bertos, 9.Shane Smeltz, 10.Michael Ferrante, 12.Richard Johnson, 18.Ben Sigmund (13.Troy Hearfield 54’), 21.Leilei Gao (11.Daniel 64’), 25.Manny Muscat, 27.Adam Kwasnik (8.Vaughan Coveny 46').
Substitutes Not Used: 1.Mark Paston (gk).
Yellow Cards: Jon McKain 56’, Leilei Gao 63’.
Melbourne Victory: 1.Michael Theoklitos (gk), 3.Michael Thwaite, 5.Sebastian Ryall, 7.Matthew Kemp, 9.Daniel Allsopp, 11.Ney Fabiano (15.Tom Pondeljak 78’), 12.Rodrigo Vargas (captain), 16.Carlos Hernandez, 17.Jose Luis Lopez, 19.Evan Berger, 22.Nick Ward.
Substitutes Not Used: 4.Steven Pace, 13.Nathan Elasi, 20.Mitchell Langerak (gk).
Yellow Cards: Matthew Kemp 53’.