Soccer: Phoenix unfazed by Sydney's superstar

By Terry Maddaford

Ricki Herbert urges team to treat Italian Del Piero just like any other player.

Alessandro Del Piero waves during a training session. Photo / Rick Rycroft
Alessandro Del Piero waves during a training session. Photo / Rick Rycroft

Alessandro Del Piero looms large and will be "the man" at Westpac Stadium when Sydney kick-off their Hyundai A-League campaign tonight but Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert is not getting carried away by the hype surrounding the biggest name to kick a ball in the eight-season history of the competition.

"I met him in Sydney at the launch and I think what he is doing for the league is fantastic but we have to treat him as just another player," said Herbert.

"We all know what he can do with the ball, the challenge for us is to starve him of those opportunities.

"It is more important that our players do their jobs and cut down the supply of ball to him. If we aren't doing our job then, of course, he will be a threat. But, no, I'm not tempted to go one-on-one with him, that's not our style."

It will be hard not to get carried along by the hype surrounding the Italian superstar. A few weeks shy of his 38th birthday, Del Piero, with a staggering 56,541 minutes of professional football in his legs, will not be the quickest on the field but any perceived lack of pace will be more than compensated for by his uncanny knack of doing the seemingly impossible.

While new Sydney FC coach Ian Crook has yet to reveal his starting XI, it is certain his marquee player will be in the action as the Sky Blues begin a campaign aimed at restoring the big-spending club to their glory days.

Both teams will have the customary new look a new season brings but Herbert will not be changing much.

Mark Paston will start in goal and regular defenders Tony Lochhead, Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund will be joined by new right back Leo Bertos. In midfield Manny Muscat will be joined by Alex Smith with Jeremy Brockie providing the go-forward.

Up front there will be changes with Chris Greenacre gone and Paul Ifill likely to start from the bench after getting over off-season injury woes. Youngster Louis Fenton is set to get a start and will have plenty of experience around him when Herbert settles on his new-look combination which will include two from Benjamin Totori, Stein Huysegems and loan player Ricardo Clarke.

It is on attack Herbert is expecting more.

"I think we are definitely stronger at the top," said Herbert.

"There is a bit more pace and mobility with players like Jeremy Brockie, Louis Fenton, Ricardo Clarke, Benjamin Totori and Tyler Boyd."

The Phoenix beat Sydney four times last season including three-from-three at Westpac Stadium including the dramatic 3-2 triumph in the elimination final.

Sydney have made changes but, surprisingly, the odds-makers still rate the home team as favourites.

• Herbert yesterday named an 18-strong NZ squad for the away and home World Cup qualifying matches against Tahiti next week, leaving out only Phoenix defender Michael Boxall from the squad who played the opening two matches.

- NZ Herald

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