Isuzu UTE A-League Semi-Final Second Leg Match Preview

The Wellington Phoenix want to create a piece of New Zealand football history this weekend.

The Phoenix will advance to their maiden Isuzu UTE A-League grand final if they beat Melbourne Victory in the second leg of their semi-final at a sold out Sky Stadium on Saturday night.

The semi-final is all square after a scoreless first leg in Melbourne.

Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano wants to create an unforgettable moment for the crowd at Sky Stadium and for those who’ll be watching on TV.

“We’re going to try and put a show on for all of our fans,” Italiano told media before training on Friday morning. “It’ll be one of those moments like the New Zealand-Bahrain game where they (the All Whites) qualified.

“It’s more important for those outside of football that aren’t coming to the stadium that love the moment, because those are the people that hopefully will come back to the game at a later stage.

“And then next year when Auckland comes in and there’s a rivalry and so on, those people will be watching because they all think the Phoenix have something to offer.”

Italiano believes his players will embrace the occasion.

“If you’re not going to enjoy these moments; a full crowd, everyone behind you, the fact that we’ve achieved so much, then you’re not going to enjoy anything in life.

“We’ll still treat it as a game, but the fact we’ve accomplished so much I want the boys to appreciate that.

“We’re going to create history no matter what, which is great. I’ve already said to the boys we’ve gone above and beyond what everyone thought and now we just want to enjoy this game.

“I’s a celebration about what we’ve done this year. It’s a celebration of the football and it’s also a celebration of the team themselves, being against the odds and doing something fantastic.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – APRIL 27: fstsduring the A-League Men round 26 match between Wellington Phoenix and Macarthur FC at Sky Stadium, on April 27, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

And he doesn’t believe the pressure of playing in front of more than 30 thousand fans will be overwhelming.

“You couldn’t have asked that against Macarthur when there was so much on the line. You could have asked that for all of the last five or six regular season games. I don’t think we ever buckled once.

“At every challenge I think the boys have stepped up.

“Are we going to suffer as a team? I think that’s normal.

“You watch Argentina when they won the World Cup. Every game they looked like they were going to lose and they just pulled it out. Being an Argentinian fan you have to suffer. We’re going to go through that tomorrow.

“There are going to be times where we’re under the pump…or there might be a scenario where we have to chase the game and really show some grit and real character, but the boys are up for that.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – MAY 17: L to R, Jack Duncan, Alby Kelly-Heald and Alex Paulsen look on during a Wellington Phoenix A-League training session at NZCIS on May 17, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The Nix have worked on penalties at training this week in preparation for the possibility the semi-final is still level after 90 minutes and extra time.

“At the end of every session we’ve addressed the penalties. Yesterday I tried to put a scenario basis on it where I’ll time limit some players who are taking penalties and I’ll get the other boys to rile up a response…just to get them comfortable with being uncomfortable.

“Whether that works it goes down to the moment.

“You can train for it all you want, people can say you can make it more pressurised but I’ve seen so many penalty shoot-outs and I’ve seen so many really unbelievable players miss when things get tough, and I’ve seen players that you wouldn’t expect to hold up to pressure and they nail it.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – MAY 17: L to R, Sam Sutton, Finn Surman and Youstin Salas enjoy a laugh during a Wellington Phoenix A-League training session at NZCIS on May 17, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Giancarlo Italiano again has an almost full-strength squad to pick from and has named the same extended 20-strong squad that travelled to Melbourne last week.

“My only question mark is with Youstin [Salas]. I’m not sure if he’s ready to do 90 minutes. Everyone else is fit and raring to go.

“There are a couple of boys who are going to miss out tomorrow and they shouldn’t be missing out, because they’ve done so well to get into the position where they want to make a contribution…but that’s a sign of a healthy squad.”

Victory are virtually unchanged as well, but are still missing French midfielder Zinedine Machach, who is serving the second match of his two-game suspension.

“They have a very, very good squad,” Italiano said. “The fact that you can bring on [Jake] Brimmer and [Daniel] Arzani, who are some big players.

“They have a very good goalkeeper as well and I rate their two centre backs. I think they’re very, very good.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – MAY 17: Coach Giancarlo Italiano speaks to media during a Wellington Phoenix A-League training session at NZCIS on May 17, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The second leg of the Isuzu UTE A-League semi-final between Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory is scheduled to kick-off at Sky Stadium in Wellington at 6:30pm (4:30pm AEST) Saturday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 2 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

Most recent meeting:
12 May 2024 – Melbourne Victory 0 Wellington Phoenix 0

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 12W, Victory 24W & 14D.

Wellington Phoenix squad
(two to be omitted)3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Fin CONCHIE, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Mo AL-TAAY, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 17. Youstin SALAS, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 19. Sam SUTTON, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Matt SHERIDAN.
Unavailable: Nil.

Melbourne Victory squad (two to be omitted): 2. Jason GERIA, 3. Adama TRAORE, 5. Damien DA SILVA, 6. Leigh BROXHAM, 7. Chris IKONOMIDIS, 10. Bruno FORNAROLI, 11. Ben FOLAMI, 14. Connor CHAPMAN, 16. Stefan NIGRO, 17. Nishan VELUPILLAY, 19. Daniel ARZANI, 20. Paul IZZO (gk), 21. Roderick MIRANDA (c), 22. Jake BRIMMER, 23. Salim KHELIFI, 25. Ryan TEAGUE, 27. Jordi VALADON, 28. Roly BONEVACIA, 37. Kasey BOS, 40. Christian SICILIANO (gk).
8. Zinedine MACHACH (suspended).