Phoenix bank on passion and emotion in playoff

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 30/03/2012
Phoenix
PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ
PASSION AND EMOTION: Phoenix training at Westpac Stadium for their games against Sydney FC.
Phoenix
CHRIS SKELTON/fairfax NZ Zoom
Phoenix's Nick Ward goes over the top of Mariners' Mustafa Amini to head the ball.

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Ricki Herbert will encourage his players to embrace the emotion surrounding Tim Brown's impending retirement in tonight's A-League elimination final at Westpac Stadium.

A crowd in excess of 20,000 is expected to pour through the gates for what would be Brown's last game of competitive football should the Phoenix lose to Sydney FC.

"Browny, I don't think you can take away the fact that he's been here, a foundation player, a real heart on the sleeve guy who's really built this club with a lot of people," Herbert said.

"He's been a strong sort of leader behind all that so I think it's only natural that there will be a strong passion from all the players and staff [tonight] in support of Tim.

"He has made a massive decision in his life and we understand and respect that but there will certainly be something about Browny [tonight]."

The Phoenix are hoping that passion and emotion will spark a better performance than they showed in back-to-back losses against Melbourne Victory and Central Coast Mariners.

Sydney are a dangerous opponent, haven't lost for a month and have had the pressure valve released by beating Newcastle on Sunday and squeaking into the playoffs.

"Our away form has been good this season," said Sydney captain Terry McFlynn.

"There's a strong belief in the group, confidence is at an all-time high this season so we'll keep believing in what we're doing, as we have all season, and may that continue."

The Phoenix are at full strength for tonight's game and are expected to name an unchanged XI from the side that lost 2-1 to the Mariners last Sunday.

With A-League rules allowing an extra substitute for finals games, popular little Brazilian Daniel will get a spot on the bench after recovering from an ankle injury.

There was plenty of healthy niggle and banter at yesterday's final training session and Phoenix captain Andrew Durante – an A-League champion with Newcastle – said he still got the butterflies come finals time.

"It's going to be a long day waiting for an 8 o'clock kickoff but I think there's a lot of good, nervous energy," Durante said.

"We knew what a great feeling it was a couple of years ago [2010 finals run]. To finish fourth and get that back again is fantastic and I think you'll see we'll thrive on that."

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The Phoenix spent plenty of time practising penalties yesterday but are hoping it won't come to that given they are three from three against Sydney this season.

Durante, who played for Sydney in the Asian Champions League last year, admitted the Sky Blues' recent form had been impressive.

"But we hold no fears against them. It always gives you that little bit more confidence knowing that we can beat them and we've beat them in different ways.

"They pretty much put us under the pump last time we played them at the Sydney Football Stadium but we defended well and the two other games we took it them and put them on the back foot."

As per usual, plenty rests on the shoulders of Phoenix star Paul Ifill. The Barbados international has scored in all three games against Sydney this season and declared himself 100 per cent fit during the week.

Phoenix (probable): Mark Paston, Manny Muscat, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Tony Lochhead, Vince Lia, Tim Brown, Leo Bertos, Dani Sanchez, Chris Greenacre, Paul Ifill. Bench: Tony Warner, Alex Smith, Nick Ward, Daniel, Mirjan Pavlovic

Sydney (probable): Ivan Necevski, Shannon Cole, Pascal Bosschaart, Michael Beauchamp, Scott Jamieson, Terry McFlynn, Brett Emerton, Karol Kisel, Nick Carle, Joel Chianese, Bruno Cazarine. Bench (from): Ryan Norval, Sebastian Ryall, Terry Antonis, Mark Bridge, Rhyan Grant, Mitch Mallia.

- The Dominion Post

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