The Wellington Phoenix start a new era in Queensland tomorrow night.
The round of 32 Australia Cup match against Peninsula Power in Redcliffe is Giancarlo Italiano’s first competitive match in charge since he was appointed the men’s head coach in April.
“From a personal note it’s exciting, but it’s more of a fleeting thought than anything,” Italiano told media on Wednesday.
“My main focus and the staff’s focus is to make sure we get the result, we stick to our principles, we entertain the fans, and we use this as a building block for our season.
“We want to see that there’s some resemblance to what we’ve done over the last five weeks so that we can build on that for the next game, whether it is in two weeks or the start of the season.”
It is not the first time he has overseen the Phoenix in a competitive match. Italiano stepped in for two A-League matches during the 2021-22 Isuzu UTE A-League when Ufuk Talay was forced to isolate due to Covid-19 and he guided the Nix to wins over Perth Glory and Brisbane Roar.
After three years as Talay’s lead assistant, Italiano’s feeling comfortable in the head coaching role.
“I love the job. For me every day I’m living the dream.
“I’m really enjoying my time with my staff. We’ve created a really good environment and players are really buying into what we’re doing.”
Part of what he and his staff are trying to do is implement a new playing style.
“It’ll look very different. Still the same base principles but the starting point will be different, and I’ll bring my own flavour to it.
“The boys are really embracing the new formation and the new style and we’re looking forward to trying to execute on Friday.
“In a way it’s refreshing for our players, because it’s completely new, training isn’t the same and we don’t have the same routine. We’ve been able to keep things very fresh.
“Our goal is to excite fans and make Phoenix fans really proud of the football. I believe we’ll be an exciting team to watch.”
As a result, beating Peninsula Power and progressing to the round of 16 is “not the be all and end all”.
“I’ve never heard a coach say that he wants to lose a game. Every game for me is a must win, but it’s more about the process and making sure we get what we need to get out of the game, not just focus on the winning.
“Because if it’s ugly I won’t be happy, and the players won’t be happy. For me it’s about playing well, getting the result and enjoying the process and then we can build on that.”
New signings Mohamed Al-Taay, Jack Duncan and Lukas Kelly-Heald are in line to make their first team debuts for the Phoenix, as are academy players Josh Rudland, Ben Wallace, Kaelin Nguyen and Fergus Gillion, who have all been included in the touring party.
New signing Fin Conchie hasn’t made the trip to Brisbane because of suspension, while attacking midfielder Ben Old remains sidelined with a long-term injury.
It is the club’s ninth foray into the Australia Cup, having reached the quarter-finals the past two seasons.
Their opening opponents Peninsula Power also made the last eight last year and are playing in the round of 32 for the third straight year.
Peninsula Power currently sit eighth in National Premier Leagues Queensland, but they are unbeaten in their past 11 league matches and drew with top of the table Gold Coast Knights on Sunday.
It will be just the Phoenix’s second Australia Cup match in Queensland. The first was in 2019 when the Brisbane Strikers beat the Phoenix 4-2 on penalties in Ufuk Talay’s first match in charge.
Peninsula Power have yet to beat A-League opposition in their previous three Cup appearances.
The round of 32 Australia Cup match between the Wellington Phoenix and Peninsula Power is scheduled to kick-off at A.J. Kelly Park in Redcliffe at 7:30pm AEST (9:30pm NZT) on Friday and will be broadcast live on 10 Play in Australia and on Football Australia’s YouTube Channel in New Zealand.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Mohamed AL-TAAY, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 19. Sam SUTTON, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 34. Josh RUDLAND, 36. Ben WALLACE, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 41. Kaelin NGUYEN, 42. Fergus GILLION.
Unavailable: 5. Fin CONCHIE (suspended), 8. Ben OLD (injured).