Tempers flare as Phoenix down Boca Juniors
A year ago you would have been declared mad if you said the Wellington Phoenix would beat Argentina's famous Boca Juniors.
But the bar has been lifted in New Zealand football and you wouldn't have picked the All Whites to finish ahead of Italy at a World Cup either.
A combination of the winter cold, high ticket prices and Boca's lack of star power resulted in a disappointing crowd of 11,751 at Westpac Stadium last night.
But the hardy fans had the luxury of whipping their shirts off and witnessing some very promising signs as the Phoenix warmed up for their fourth A-League season with a 2-1 win.
Beating Boca, who with Italy's AC Milan have won more international titles than any other club, is no mean feat.
"It's a pretty big scalp to take," Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert said.
"It was always going to be interesting to know where we're at and that calibre of team was always going to be the measure of it. We've got a lot of work to do but I was very pleased."
Before fans get too excited, it is the pre-season and Boca are not the powerhouse of yesteryear.
The club is rebuilding after a disastrous 2009-10 season and left 10 players back in Argentina, including superstar Juan Roman Riquelme.
But there were plenty of positives in the Phoenix's last decent run before they open their A-League campaign, at home to Gold Coast United on August 13.
With 10 of last year's side starting, the Phoenix were well organised and, with a fit-again Tim Brown working hard, enjoyed an equal share of possession.
New signing Dylan Macallister made an immediate impact, sliding on to a Chris Greenacre cross to push home the opening goal.
Skipper Andrew Durante then made it 2-0 early in the second half when he nodded home a header from a Daniel free kick.
Boca goalkeeper Javier Garcia forgot to protect his near post to let in a soft goal that he will hope doesn't make its way back to Buenos Aires television.
Boca's classy No10 Marcelo Canete was a constant threat but was unable to land the killer blow as the tourists became frustrated.
Wellington referee Jamie Cross wasn't endearing himself to either team as he dished out the yellow cards and struggled to keep a lid on the niggle.
Things boiled over when Boca captain Christian Cellay was given his marching orders, handed a second yellow for bringing down Paul Ifill.
Ifill reacted and there was contact between his head and Cellay's as an all-in melee ensued.
The lead allowed Herbert to give Roberto Cornejo, Mirjan Pavlovic and Chris Shuker a run as the trio try to earn permanent deals at the club.
Just as the Phoenix were cruising, Durante gave Boca a sniff when he conceded an ugly own goal with 10 minutes to go but the home team held on.
Boca had previously beaten Melbourne Victory 1-0 and coach Claudio Borghi said he was impressed with the Phoenix's defensive solidity and physical approach.
The smallish turnout didn't cost the Phoenix a bean because Singapore-based sports media company MP & Silva had underwritten the costs of the match.
Herbert said the Phoenix would play Wairarapa United next Wednesday and would also schedule a game against New Zealand's under-20s.
The Dominion Post