Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Soccer: Phoenix happy to play the underdog

Being written off across the Tasman has become a right of passage for the Wellington Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images.
Being written off across the Tasman has become a right of passage for the Wellington Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images.

Being written off across the Tasman has become such a right of passage for the Wellington Phoenix that skipper Andrew Durante says the club doesn't even use it as motivation any more.

The Phoenix could add nearly any player on the planet to their roster and they would barely register with pundits in Australia who regularly tip the Wellingtonians to pick up the A-League's wooden spoon.

This year doesn't appear much different; with early season predictions having the club coming anywhere between eighth and last in the 10-team league.

"It's funny that the so-called experts can predict us to come last," Durante said. "I mean, every year they do it and every year we prove them wrong. It's almost non-existent. We don't even talk about it anymore. It's a non-factor. It used to be motivation for us but, if they're experts in the A-League, then they shouldn't be picking us to come last so we don't really think about it."

Considering the Phoenix have made the playoffs for the past three seasons they warrant a degree of respect, and their formidable home record at Westpac Stadium works in their favour.

While certain clubs have made big waves in the transfer market this year, the Phoenix have looked to recruit smartly rather than write big cheques.

They've added school of excellence players Louis Fenton and Tyler Boyd and All Whites Glen Moss, Jeremy Brockie and Michael Boxall alongside Solomon Islands international Benjamin Totori and Belgian striker Stein Huysegems.

It's a solid outfit and, although the Phoenix struggled to find the back of the net regularly enough last season, Brockie has scored 18 goals in pre-season and Huysegems comes highly-regarded after spending time in the Belgian and Dutch first divisions.

The Phoenix open their campaign against Sydney FC at their Westpac Stadium fortress tomorrow night, and the Sky Blues flew into the capital today with their marquee man Alessandro Del Piero in fine fettle.

The Italian is one of three major signings made by A-League clubs in the past month, with former England striker Emile Heskey putting pen to paper with the Newcastle Jets, and Shinji Ono now with the Western Sydney Wanderers.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert appears to have only one major decision to make tomorrow around his starting line-up against Sydney - whether to play Paul Ifill or take a shot on rookie Fenton.

Ifill would normally be one of the first players on a Phoenix team sheet but has only recently returned from ankle and knee injuries that ruined his pre-season.

The former Barbados international trained today (Fri) without discomfort and also took part in last weekend's 7-1 defeat of YoungHeart Manawatu in Palmerston North, but Herbert was non-committal about Ifill's presence tomorrow and said he could play from the bench.

Fenton has impressed throughout the pre-season and was one of two players from the inaugural intake to the club's school of excellence to be awarded a fulltime contract.

American Alex Smith will partner Manny Muscat in a new-look midfield, and Huysegems and Brockie will play up front with Totori on one wing.

The backline will be anchored by Durante and Ben Sigmund, while the ever-reliable Tony Lochhead will be on the left with converted defender Leo Bertos at right-back.

All Whites' custodian Mark Paston appears likely to start ahead of Moss in goal.

- APNZ

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