The Wellington Phoenix are eager for their biggest test of the season this Saturday, as they face last season’s Hyundai A-League Champions, Sydney FC at Westpac Stadium for the first time.
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The match brings together two of the Hyundai A-League’s most in-form teams, with the Phoenix currently enjoying a five-game unbeaten run and Sydney having won their last six matches in a row – and currently sitting top of the table.
Wellington knows that it has a battle on its hands, with Sydney FC undefeated in their last seven games against the Phoenix in New Zealand (W5, D2); in fact the last time they lost such a fixture was in December 2013. But the strong belief in the Phoenix club is that they have a new squad built to contend with anyone, regardless of past results.
The match also brings together two of the Hyundai A-Leagues most exciting and prolific goal-scorers; Sydney FC’s Adam Le Fondre (first-equal with 10 goals) and Wellington Phoenix’s Ulises Davila (third-equal with 6 goals).
It is also a reunion of sorts for Coach Ufuk Talay and Cameron Devlin, with both based at Sydney FC last season – the former as assistant coach and the latter making seven appearances for Sydney off the bench.
Cameron is coming off a solid individual showing in his first start for the club against Melbourne Victory, making a game-high 125 touches on the ball, drawing seven fouls and being named in the Hyundai A-League Team of the Week. Devlin said he was happy with his performance and was looking forward to facing his old team.
“I went into the game with full confidence knowing that when I did get my chance I would do quite well, and I think I did. I just tried to do my best for the team and work as hard as I could in defence and on the ball, keep it simple but move it as quick as I could.
“Hopefully I get the nod for Saturday but it’ll be something that I can’t control, I’ve just got to train as hard as I can and if I get it I’ll be ready because I’m itching to play – I can’t wait.”
Beyond the exciting football to be expected for this match, there are other reasons for Round 11 to be ‘one to watch’ for Wellington Phoenix fans too.
For starters, it will be the last ever sporting fixture at Westpac Stadium, before it transitions to Sky Stadium in the new year – the first ever name change for this iconic stadium since it was opened 20 years ago. During this time, over 10 million sporting fans have attending various matches, and the Phoenix will have played over 150 home matches here during their 13 seasons of existence.
On a more sombre note, the Wellington Phoenix will also be observing a moment’s silence for the victims of the Whakaari/White Island eruption at the start of the match; both teams will also wear black armbands in tribute.
The Phoenix are expecting a strong crowd for this match given both their unbeaten streak and the quality of opponent they’re facing – the 4.45pm start time is also sure to appeal to families looking for some entertainment leading up to Christmas.
At a Glance:
Date: Saturday, 21 December 2019
Kick-off: 4.45pm NZT
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Broadcast (NZ) Sky Sport 7
Wellington Phoenix Squad:
Goalkeepers: 1.Stefan MARINOVIC (GK), 20.Oliver SAIL (GK)
Defenders: 2.Liam McGING, 3.Luke DEVERE, 4.Te Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI, 13.Liberato CACACE, 23.Walter SCOTT, 27.Steven TAYLOR (c)
Midfielders: 5.Matti STEINMANN, 6.Tim PAYNE, 7.Reno PISCOPO, 8.Cameron DEVLIN, 14.Alex RUFER, 32. Sam SUTTON
Forwards: 9.David BALL, 10.Ulises DAVILA, 11.Jaushua SOTIRIO, 21.Callum MCCOWATT, 31.Ben WAINE, 88. Gary HOOPER
**2-4 to be omitted**
Ins: 14.Alex RUFER (Return from Injury), 23.Walter SCOTT (promoted), 32.Sam SUTTON (promoted)
Unavailable: 16.Louis FENTON (Shoulder – Season)
Sydney FC squad:
1.Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 2.Patrick FLOTTMANN, 4.Alex WILKINSON (c), 5.Alex BAUMJOHANN, 6.Ryan McGOWAN, 8.Paulo RETRE, 9.Adam LE FONDRE, 10.Milos NINKOVIC, 11.Kosta BARBAROUSES, 12.Trent BUHAGIAR, 16.Joel KING, 17.Anthony CACERES, 18.Luke IVANOVIC, 20.Tom HEWARD-BELLE (gk), 21.Harry VAN DER SAAG, 23.Rhyan GRANT, 24.Marco TILIO, 25. Ryan TEAGUE, 26.Luke BRATTAN, 27. Jordi SWIBEL.
**2-4 to be omitted**
In: 25. Ryan TEAGUE (promoted), 27. Jordi SWIBEL (promoted)
Unavailable: 3.Ben WARLAND (ACL), 7. Michael ZULLO (calf), 13. Brandon O’NEILL (knee), 19. Chris ZUVELA (knee)