After two months on the ground in Wollongong, the Wellington Phoenix make their long-awaited debut at WIN Stadium tonight as they take on Sydney FC in their first match of the A-League 2020/21 season.
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It’s always a great occasion to play last year’s champions and the boys are definitely up for it
The Phoenix bring back 15 players from last season’s squad, including veterans in club Player of the Year in David Ball (6 goals, 4 assists in 2019/20), Ulises Dávila (12 goals, 5 assists), Alex Rufer, Louis Fenton, Luke DeVere and goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic.
Returning youngsters Cameron Devlin, Reno Piscopo – the latter will sit out versus Sydney FC due to injury – and Jaushua Sotirio will be counted on to continue their strong form from last season, with opportunities for kiwis Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, Ben Waine and Sam Sutton to earn minutes in this revamped squad.
The squad features newcomers in Kiwis Clayton Lewis, Matthew Ridenton and James McGarry, joined by Olyroo Joshua Laws and ex-Brisbane Roar forward Mirza Muratovic. Completing the new squad is marquee striker Tomer Hemed, an Israeli international player who joined the club last month following his season at Championship side Charlton Athletic.
The Nix squad first assembled at the University of Wollongong at the beginning of November last year, bringing together players from New Zealand and Australia for a three-week pre-season camp. A decision was made to remain in Wollongong for the season, with key players Marinovic and Dávila later joining the squad from overseas.
The squad has jelled well together over the past two months, playing six pre-season matches and going 5-1 during this time. The club has also recently named Dávila – last season’s leading scorer with 12 goals and a contender for A-League player of the year – as Captain, which Dávila says is a huge honour.
“I’m very happy to be named the captain, and like I did last season I will try to give my best for the team and for the club,” Davila said.
“I will do my best and try to be a captain with good actions, and I will try to push everyone to try and get the best out of themselves.”
Sydney FC will bring back the bulk of their championship squad, highlighted by reigning Goalkeeper of the year Andrew Redmayne and 2019/20 Grand Final hero Rhyan Grant. Captain Alex Wilkinson and midfielder Luke Brattan – the club’s player of the year – round out a seasoned squad who are looking for their third championship in three seasons.
Although Sydney FC will be missing Adam Le Fondre – their leading scorer last season with 21 goals – this season, Phoenix Coach Ufuk Talay says Sydney still present a strong attacking threat with Trent Buhagiar and kiwi, Kosta Barbarouses.
“Trent played very well in the Asian Champions League, and both Trent and Kosta like to go beyond and are quick players up front – so they can be dangerous players who we’ll be mindful of.”
The Wellington Phoenix played Sydney FC three times last season (1D, 2L) and Talay says that the club always relishes the chance to play the champs.
“I think we probably played our best games against Sydney in the three games we played them, we play a very similar style of football so we match up well against them,” says Talay.
“For us it’s very important this year that we make the most of the opportunities we create to score, and to be more clinical in how we play.
“It’s always a great occasion to play last year’s champions and the boys are definitely up for it.”
The Wellington Phoenix will play their first match of the 2020/21 A-League season, take on Sydney FC tonight at WIN Stadium from 5.05pm AEDT.
At a Glance:
Date: Saturday, 2 January 2021
Kick-off: 5.05pm AEDT / 7.05pm NZ Time
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Broadcast: Live coverage on FOX SPORTS 505 from 5:00pm (AEDT), Kayo Sports (www.kayosports.com.au) MyFootball Live App, Live Fast and Data Free for Telstra mobile customers and ABC TV.
Sky Sport 7 from 7:00 pm (NZT).
Wellington Phoenix squad: 1.Stefan MARINOVIC (gk), 2.Liam McGING, 3.Luke DEVERE, 4.Te Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI, 5.James MCGARRY, 6.Tim PAYNE, 8.Cameron DEVLIN, 9.David BALL, 10.Ulises DAVILA, 11.Jaushua SOTIRIO, 12.Matthew RIDENTON, 14.Alex RUFER, 15.Mirza MURATOVIC, 16.Louis FENTON, 17.Tomer HEMED, 18.Ben WAINE, 19.Sam SUTTON, 20.Oliver SAIL, 21.Joshua LAWS, 23.Clayton LEWIS
**2-4 to be omitted**
Unavailable: 7.Reno PISCOPO (calf injury, 1-2 weeks)
Sydney FC Squad: 1.Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 3. Ben WARLAND, 4. Alex WILKINSON (c), 5. Alex BAUMJOHANN, 6. Ryan McGOWAN, 7. Michael ZULLO, 10.Milos NINKOVIC, 11.Kosta BARBAROUSES, 12.Trent BUHAGIAR, 16.Joel KING, 17.Anthony CACERES, 18.Luke IVANOVIC, 19.Chris ZUVELA, 20.Tom HEWARD-BELLE (gk), 23.Rhyan GRANT, 26.Luke BRATTAN, 28.Calem NIEUWENHOF, 33.Pat WOOD
**0-2 to be omitted**
Unavailable: 8.Paulo RETRE (2 weeks – groin), 30. Adam PAVLESIC (GK) (indefinite – collarbone).