Soccer: Phoenix hopefuls to prove fitness

By Terry Maddaford

Training tests will decide final line-up as a much-changed Wellington outfit prepares to face Heart.

Jacob Spoonley will pull on the keeper's gloves if Scott Basalaj fails a fitness test. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Jacob Spoonley will pull on the keeper's gloves if Scott Basalaj fails a fitness test. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Fitness tests in a final training session across the Tasman today will decide the make-up of the Wellington Phoenix for tomorrow's Hyundai A-League clash with Melbourne Heart.

As two of the four teams to win in week one, the winner of the match at AAMI Park will be sitting pretty and full of early-season confidence.

The raw deal handed the Phoenix has been well documented but the players who flew to Melbourne yesterday afternoon have put that behind them with their focus solely on repeating that first-up effort despite the enforced changes to accommodate international football.

In losing four of the back five who turned in a sterling effort against Italian maestro Alessandra Del Piero and his Sydney teammates, the Phoenix could suffer.

Again, that is far from reality. Captain Andrew Durante is confident the players who will come in are well equipped to do the job.

Schoolboy goalkeeper Scott Basalaj, one of four Phoenix academy players who could be involved, will be put through his paces by goalkeeping coach Jonathan Gould in this afternoon's training before his role in the match will be decided.

If Basalaj is not declared fit to play - he has been struggling with illness since returning from the pre-season tour in India - Auckland City's Jacob Spoonley will start.

There would be a certain irony in that. Spoonley's only All Whites cap came in Fiji in 2008 when he played off the bench after Glen Moss was sent off for foul and abusive language aimed at referee Lencie Fred. With Moss and Phoenix regular Mark Paston in Tahiti for tonight's international, Spoonley would again be thanking Moss for giving him game time.

Durante will be joined in the back four by Cameron Lindsay and Luke Rowe (as fullbacks) and All White Michael Boxall centrally.

Vinnie Lia is set to return but just how much game time and whether he will start will be decided after a conversation between Gould, assistant coach Chris Greenacre and Ricki Herbert in Tahiti.

If Lia starts, he would join Manny Muscat and Alex Smith in midfield with teenage star Louis Fenton, Paul Ifill and Stein Huysegems to form the attack, with perhaps the Belgian taking the centre forward role and Ifill and Fenton playing wide.

Tom Biss, Tyler Boyd, Ricardo Clark and either Basalaj or Spoonley will be on the bench.

With pace on the flanks, Melbourne Heart will pose a threat out wide which will need some good defensive play from Lia and Smith in their wide midfield roles.

Rookie coach John Aloisi, who celebrated his elevation to a head coaching role with a 2-1 win over much-heralded rivals Melbourne Victory, will take an unchanged squad into the match.

There will be special attention on Heart striker Dylan Macallister, who scored his team's opening goal in the derby win. Macallister played 22 games for the Phoenix in 2010-11 scoring seven goals.

In the match of the round, defending champions Brisbane Roar are at home to Melbourne Victory.

After both teams were upset in the opening round, this game looms large with the added spice of Ange Postecoglou returning to Brisbane as coach of the Victory after steering the Roar to back-to-back triumphs.

- NZ Herald

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