A LONG and successful pre-season campaign behind them, the Wellington Phoenix are champing at the bit ahead of Sunday’s Hyundai A-League 2008/09 opener against the Queensland Roar.
“I think everybody’s pleased the start of the season is finally here,” Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert said of the eagerly anticipated clash at Westpac Stadium. “And that’s not just the players – it’s very clear that the fans are also raring to go.”
The Phoenix have had the “luxury” of an extended buildup ahead of their second season in the competition and have already signalled their intent to be a real force. The Hyundai A-League’s newest club is also causing a stir among their opposition, with coaches and captains of the other seven clubs tipping the Wellington-based outfit to be this season’s dark horse.
Having made the final of the 2008 Pre-Season Cup, ultimately dipping out on penalties to the Melbourne Victory, the Phoenix showed plenty of promise on their unbeaten run to the showdown at Westpac Stadium.
That run included a gutsy 1-1 away draw with the highly fancied opponents they will face at home on Sunday.
“I think Queensland will again be a good side,” Herbert said. “Last season they probably should have won the home and away part of the competition. Frank [Farina, Roar coach] always prepares his sides well – they’re a mobile team and a young team and they’ll be tough. But I think if we can get on top of them then we’ve got the firepower to overcome them.”
Herbert has named a strong squad, with skipper Andrew Durante and Jon McKain anchoring the defence. Outside them, Tony Lochhead slots back into left back after returning from his trial with English Premier League club Middlesbrough and Manny Muscat is in line to start on the right.
The Phoenix have plenty of firepower in midfield, with Karl Dodd, Michael Ferrante, Daniel, Leo Bertos, Adam Kwasnik, Troy Hearfield, Jeremy Christie and Richard Johnson making the 15. Should Johnson take the field on Sunday he will notch his 50th game in the Hyundai A-League.
Up front the onus will be on striker Shane Smeltz, though he will receive plenty of backup from the Phoenix’s attack-minded midfield.
Herbert said it had been tough selecting his squad for the opener.
“Everyone has had a good pre-season and we want to take that form into the season. It hasn’t been easy to pick the team but I’m sure the 15 that have been included will do the job for us.”
Captain Durante said the Phoenix would seek to dominate the Roar in the middle of the park.
“We played during the 2008 Pre-Season Cup and we know their strengths and weaknesses. They key is to close their midfield down because that’s where they’re quite strong. If we can do that we’ll go a long way toward winning this game.”
The match could provide extra spice given the possibility of two brothers coming up against each other – Phoenix enforcer Karl Dodd set to face younger brother Dave, a midfielder for the Roar.
Dodd the elder said he was relishing the possibility.
“Dave’s getting in tonight and he’ll give me a call then, so I’ll be able to find out if he’ll be playing or not. If he does play then I’m sure I’ll let him know that I’m out there – there’ll be no love lost. I might put a strong challenge on him or give him a bit of a nudge as I go past.”
With their mother in the stand at Westpac Stadium on Sunday, big brother had no doubt about which sibling would get the family backing.
“Dave’s a mummy’s boy, so I’m sure he’ll have mum’s support.”
Wellington Phoenix v Queensland Roar
Sunday 17 August 2008
Kickoff 5pm NZST (3pm AEST, 2.30pm ACST, 1pm AWST)
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Referee. Ben Williams
Assistant Referees. Glen Lochrie and Mark Rule
Fourth Official. Peter O’Leary
TV. Sky Sport 1 (www.skytv.co.nz ) - Match broadcast commences 4.30pm NZST, Live & Exclusive Fox Sports 3 (www.foxsports.com.au) - Match broadcast commences 3.00pm AEST (2.30pm ACST, 1.00pm AWST).
Radio. The Radio Network (www.radionetwork.co.nz ) 1035 AM Wellington www.radionetwork.co.nz
Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Jeremy CHRISTIE, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. Karl DODD, 7. Leo BERTOS, 9. Shane SMELTZ, 10. Michael FERRANTE, 11. DANIEL, 12. Richard JOHNSON, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 15. Adam KWASNIK, 20. Glen MOSS (gk), 22. Andrew DURANTE (captain), 25. Manny MUSCAT
Queensland Roar squad: 1. Liam REDDY (gk), 3. Luke DEVERE, 5. Josh McCLOUGHAN, 6. Dave DODD, 7. Michael ZULLO, 8. Massimo MURDOCCA, 9. Sergio VAN DIJK, 10. Charlie MILLER, 11. REINALDO, 14. Ben GRIFFIN, 15. Matt McKAY, 16. Hyuk-Su SEO, 18. Danny TIATTO, 20. Griffin McMASTER (gk), 23. Tim SMITS.