Phoenix deal to Del Piero
Off-field is all well and good but the Wellington Phoenix provided all the on-field excitement in a cracking season opening win at Westpac Stadium.
As sure as day follows night, the Phoenix's A-League chances were written off across the Tasman, but last night they produced a performance full of attacking verve, in a 2-0 win over Sydney FC.
Alessandro Del Piero had commanded all the pre-match headlines - and rightly so given his incredible pedigree - but his opposite No 10, Belgian Stein Huysegems, and Kiwi sensation Louis Fenton were the star turns.
Huysegems, a 30-year-old striker with 15 caps for Belgium, didn't rate a mention at the A-League's launch.
After the league's big three of Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono were paraded in front of the media, Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert had to gently remind those assembled at Parramatta Stadium that he'd signed his own ex- international.
Nicknamed "Waffles" by his new team-mates, Huysegems ran intelligently all night and opened the scoring in the 43rd minute to cap a dominant first half from the home side in front of 12,057 typically boisterous fans.
Huysegems timed his run perfectly to get in behind Sydney's sleepy defence and latched onto a Manny Muscat through ball.
His first touch was good and his left-foot finish sublime, as Huysegems then leapt the advertising hoardings to celebrate.
Sydney had their last two pre- season games cancelled and the lack of match practice showed.
Italian legend Del Piero, 38, produced flashes of brilliance, but the Phoenix overwhelmed the visitors with an emphatic team display.
Fenton, a 19-year-old upgraded from the club's newly created academy, was industrious, clever and confident with almost everything he did.
The Phoenix have a real gem on their hands and Fenton's reward came in the 75th minute when he met a Muscat cross with a superb diving header to kill off the contest.
There were positives everywhere you looked and while Sydney were off the pace, coach Ricki Herbert will be thrilled by the performance.
Muscat returned to the midfield like he'd never been away and produced both assists to go with his trademark defensive hounding.
And Leo Bertos slotted into right back with ease alongside the ever- reliable Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante and Tony Lochhead.
The three points were extremely valuable given the Phoenix now travel to Melbourne to play the Heart on Sunday without their seven Kiwi internationals. The Heart looked good in a 2-1 win over the Victory in the Melbourne derby on Friday, but even understrength, the Phoenix should give them a decent run for their money.
Academy goalkeeper Scott Basalaj is set to get a start between the sticks, with Luke Rowe at left back.
There will also be increased opportunities for young attacking players Tyler Boyd and Ricardo Clarke, who came off the bench to make their debuts last night.
The cherry on top for Herbert was winning the game without risking Paul Ifill for a full 90 minutes.
The club's leading goalscorer, on the comeback trail from injury, came off the bench in the second half and looked sharp.
- Sunday Star Times
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