WELLINGTON Phoenix FC has special reason to be excited about the coming two matches on the itinerary.
Firstly, the Phoenix will play their first-ever Hyundai A-League match against Gold Coast United on Friday night. Then, little more than a week later, six Phoenix players will join their fellow New Zealand national teammates in Manama for the All White-s massive World Cup first leg qualifying match against Bahrain.
Adding extra spice to Friday night-s match is that the Phoenix will take on a “New Bling” outfit most likely featuring former Phoenix star Shane Smeltz. However, when the All Whites line up against Bahrain on October 10 for the first of the two biggest matches in New Zealand football history in 27 years, Smeltz will stand alongside his former Phoenix teammates as New Zealand attempts to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time since 1982.
Ricki Herbert, coach of the Phoenix and the All Whites, has named six players from the Wellington club in a 19-man squad for the two crunch qualifiers – Tim Brown, Ben Sigmund, Tony Lochhead, Mark Paston, David Mulligan and Leo Bertos.
Along with Smeltz, the inclusion of Central Coast Mariners midfielder Michael McGlinchey takes the Hyundai A-League-s contribution to the New Zealand squad to an impressive eight players.
Brown, vice-captain of the Phoenix and the All Whites, said that while the match against Bahrain would be the biggest of his career to date, the immediate focus was on ensuring the Phoenix secured three points against Gold Coast at Skilled Stadium on Friday night.
“You-ve got to take it one step at a time. As soon as you start getting carried away and thinking about games that are further down the track you-ll get yourself into trouble. There-s plenty of time to worry about the Bahrain game. Friday night-s game is important for the Phoenix and it-s important we do well.”
The Phoenix have been unlucky not to pick up far more competition points than they have this season, the Wellington club held to a frustrating four consecutive draws in matches they could well have won following extremely promising attacking and defensive efforts.
“You can sit around worrying about it or you can just get on with working hard and focusing on the next game,” said Brown. “As a group we-re doing the latter. We-ve had some really good performances and we know we-re playing well, so we-re not about to let frustration get the better of us. Things will come our way, no doubt.”
The highly-touted Gold Coast have been stung by two losses on the trot and will be desperate to rebound at home.
“I think it-s a good time to be playing them, to be honest,” said Brown. “They-ll be hurting and there-s a lot of hype around them – teams are enjoying the opportunity to knock them off their perch. We-re playing well, we-ve got good players and good depth, and hopefully we can really fire on Friday night and get three points.”
Much of the hype on the Gold Coast has been generated by Smeltz, the former Phoenix star who continues to set the Hyundai A-League alight with his scoring talents.
Phoenix centre back Sigmund, one of the men charged with containing his former club colleague and current national teammate on Friday night, said he was looking forward to the challenge.
“We-ll need to keep a tight line and give him no room in behind us. But he-s a funny chap, old Smeltzy; he pops up the silliest times and puts it in the back of the net. And we have to remember, it-s not just about Shane Smeltz, the Gold Coast have got Jason Culina, Joel Porter and a raft of other players who can hurt us if we-re not careful.”
Sigmund, a congenial figure off the field and uncompromising on it, said neither he nor his Phoenix teammates in the New Zealand national team would be doing Smeltz any special favours at Skilled Stadium.
“Smeltzy-s a hugely important guy for us as the All Whites but this match is about us as the Phoenix getting three points. Smeltzy-s Smeltzy, and I-m sure he-ll kick me back just as hard if I kick him!”
Friday night-s match kicks off at 8pm local time (11pm NZDST).