Isuzu UTE A-League Elimination Final Preview

Ufuk Talay is determined “to go all the way” in the Isuzu UTE A-League in what is his final season with the Wellington Phoenix.

The Phoenix face Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium on Friday night in the club’s third elimination final since Talay took charge in 2019.

The Nix have been beaten 1-0 in their past two finals matches and last advanced past the first week of the post-season in 2012.

Talay is desperate to turn around Wellington’s finals fortunes and extend his time at the Phoenix through until A-League grand final day.

“I want to go all the way,” Talay told media via zoom from Adelaide on Thursday. “I don’t want this to be my last game at the club.

“We win this game and we get a nice home game to play in front of our fans. We haven’t had that luxury during my tenure at the club, because of Covid.

“We had a great awards night the other day and you can see the support for the players to be successful.

“We want to put a smile on people’s faces and hopefully get through this game and then get the opportunity to play a home and away leg of finals football and then go all the way.

“I hope that I’m here until June 3.”

Ufuk Talay is presented with a taonga by Te Āti Awa for his services to the club at the Wellington Phoenix’s awards night on Tuesday. Photo credit: Photomac.

He wants his players to enjoy the occasion.

“The group has worked very hard to get themselves to play finals football and now we’re here.

“We played 26 games already this season. The boys understand how we play and what we need to do tactically, but it comes down to who wants it more, the willingness to get the outcome that we desire.

“We’ve got one game…that if we win then we can play a home final in Wellington so I’m sure the players will be up for it.

“These opportunities don’t come very often, and our boys need to be exposed to these moments.

“We had a chat at the start of the week and I told the boys…you’ve worked hard to get to this point so enjoy the week, work hard and we play another game.”

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 17: Kosta Barbarouses of Wellington Phoenix and Lachlan Barr of Adelaide United during the round 21 A-League Men’s match between Adelaide United and Wellington Phoenix at Coopers Stadium, on March 17, 2023, in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Sarah Reed/Getty Images)

All Whites forward Kosta Barbarouses is one Phoenix player with vast finals experience.

Barbarouses is a four-time A-League champion, having won titles with Brisbane Roar, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC, and has scored seven finals goals.

“He knows what it takes to win titles,” Talay said.

“That’s very important, not just having him within the team and playing the game, but sharing his experiences within the group is very important.

“That’s something he’s done well and he’s someone we can lean on.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – DECEMBER 17: Bozhidar Kraev of the Phoenix celebrates after scoring a goal during the round eight A-League Men’s match between Wellington Phoenix and Adelaide United at Sky Stadium, on December 17, 2022, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Masanori Udagawa/Getty Images)

The Phoenix played Adelaide United three times during the season, with the matches finishing in a 1-1 draw, a 3-1 win and a 5-1 defeat.

“We drew with them in the first game of the season, where we could have won. We nearly played the perfect game with 10 men [but] conceded a late goal with a set piece.

“The second game I thought we played well at home. We played some good football.

“Even that game that we lost 5-1, there were moments in the game where we could have got something out of it.

“We weren’t as clinical as we should have been and allowed them to score some easy goals with some set pieces and transition moments.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 29: Oskar Zawada of Phoenix (R), celebrates a goal during the round 26 A-League Men’s match between Macarthur FC and Wellington Phoenix at Campbelltown Stadium, on April 29, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Both sides are entering the elimination final in lacklustre form.

The Nix beat Macarthur FC 1-0 on Saturday evening to snap a five match winless run, while the Reds are winless in their last four, losing their last two at home, including a 4-1 defeat to Central Coast last Friday night.

“The boys would have regained confidence from our win against Macarthur.

“I certainly can’t say that for Adelaide. Ever since Western United they’ve struggled [and] their form has dropped.

“They were flying at one stage. I think they were 12 or 13 games unbeaten.”

But Ufuk Talay is at pains to point out that was during the season and “finals football is a different ballgame altogether”.

“Form and all that stuff is irrelevant leading into this game because it’s a big occasion.

“It comes down to how much do the boys really want it and how far do we want to go with this.

“There are so many different factors to finals football. There’s a lot more you need to think of.

“It’s not just the 90 minutes there’s [possibly] extra time and possibly there’s the opportunity it might go to penalties as well.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MAY 02: Nestory Irankunda of Adelaide United and Ben Old of Wellington Phoenix pose with the A-League trophy during the A-League Mens 2023 Finals Series Launch at Pier One Sydney on May 02, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Attacking midfielder Ben Old remains unavailable for selection because of injury, but he did travel to Sydney this week to launch the finals series.

Centre back Nikko Boxall was unable to travel to Adelaide because of illness.

The Isuzu UTE A-League elimination final between the Wellington Phoenix and Adelaide United is scheduled to kick-off at Coopers Stadium in Adelaide at 9:45pm (7:15pm ACST) on Friday, and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 2 & 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

Most recent A-League meeting:
17 March 2023 – Adelaide United 5 Wellington Phoenix 1

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, Adelaide 21W & 14D.

Wellington Phoenix squad:
3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 17. Callan ELLIOT, 19. Sam SUTTON, 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 21. Joshua LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 31. Yan SASSE, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk).
Unavailable: 8. Ben OLD (injured), 15. Nikko BOXALL (illness).

Adelaide United squad: 1. James DELIANOV (gk), 3. Ben WARLAND, 4. Nick ANSELL, 6. Louis D’ARRIGO, 7. Ryan KITTO, 8. ISAÍAS, 9. Hiroshi IBUSUKI, 10. Zach CLOUGH, 11. Craig GOODWIN (c), 13. Lachlan BARR, 14. George BLACKWOOD, 18. Jay BARNETT, 21. Javi LÓPEZ, 26. Ben HALLORAN, 35. Luka JOVANOVIĆ, 36. Panashe MADANHA, 41. Alexandar POPOVIĆ, 46. Joe GAUCI (gk), 55. Ethan ALAGICH, 66. Nestory IRANKUNDA.
Unavailable: 2. Harry VAN DER SAAG (injured), 27. Josh CAVALLO (injured), 28. JUANDE (injured), 31. BERNARDO (illness).