The return of central defender Ben Sigmund has given the Wellington Phoenix a boost ahead of their clash with Shillong Lajong FC in the final of the North-East Lajong Super Series at the Nehru Stadium in Shillong tomorrow.
While head coach Ricki Herbert will continue his tour practice of not naming the starting lineup till the morning of the game, Sigmund, who has completed a three-game suspension for the red card he picked up against the Newcastle Jets, is a certainty to be in it.
Sigmund, like Durante who returned to action in Wednesday-s 3-0 win over Royal Wahingdoh Sports Club, needs games under his belt after missing the first three games of the tour.
The defender, who is eager to get back in the fray, will be one of six Phoenix players going straight to New Caledonia for New Zealand-s first World Cup qualifier.
The Phoenix will go into the final as warm favourites after beating Shillong Lajong 5-2 in the preliminary series, but Herbert is likely to field a strong team as he wants to end the four-match tour on a high note.
“The trip has been really worthwhile and I want the standards we have set to be maintained.” he said.
“Some of the combinations we have been working on are starting to bear fruit and it has been very pleasing.
“You have to give credit to the players. They have played three games in six days and there has only been one half where the standard dropped.
“Now they have to step up again. They had a day off after the third game but we got through a good 90 minute session today.”
Shillong coach Des Bulpin was at pains yesterday to explain to local media representatives that he was looking long-term rather than just at tomorrow-s final.
“India needs to understand what pre-season is all about,” Bulpin said.
“In England, and I-m sure in New Zealand and Australia, they use pre-season to prepare for their main competition.
“I wouldn-t mind losing tomorrow if I could guarantee winning our opening I-League game.”
The game kicks off at 9.45pm New Zealand time.