Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Victory: What you need to know

23 days ago

Finn Surman and the Phoenix celebrate after scoring late against the Melbourne Victory FC at Sky Stadium in Wellington. Photo: Photosport

Phoenix - Figure 1
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A-League Men Semi Final

Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Victory

Kickoff: 6.30pm Saturday, 18 May (NZT)

Sky Stadium, Wellington

Live blog updates on RNZ Sport

We are on! Last week's 0-0 first leg draw has set things up perfectly for a winner-takes-all decider in the New Zealand capital this weekend.

It looks as though the Ring of Fire is going to be fully alight, with a sell-out expected at Sky Stadium as the bandwagon gets into full swing.

This is, unquestionably, the biggest game in the club's history, and with that should come a special atmosphere that the players will hopefully relish as much as the fans in attendance surely will.

So, with all that said, here's a look at the team news for this historic fixture:

Wellington Phoenix

Oskar Zawada of the Phoenix celebrates after scoring a goal during the A League Men - Wellington Phoenix v Brisbane Roar at Sky Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand on Saturday 4 November 2023 Copyright photo: Masanori Udagawa / www.photosport.nz Photo: Masanori Udagawa

Phoenix - Figure 2
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Once again, the Phoenix are at full tilt with no absentees for the upcoming game.

The team has often picked itself recently but the conditioning of Oskar Zawada could change everything. With the Phoenix looking for goals, leaving their potent Pole on the sidelines could prove an error in judgement.

Moving Kosta Barbarouses into a deeper role and having Zawada replace David Ball or Bozhidar Kraev from the start will undoubtedly be under consideration, but don't be surprised if the Phoenix shape up the same way as they did last weekend.

Goalkeepers: Alex Paulsen, Jack Duncan; Defenders: Finn Surman, Scott Wootton, Tim Payne, Lukas Kelly-Heald, Sam Sutton, Isaac Hughes. Midfielders: Alex Rufer, Bozhidar Kraev, Ben Old, Mohamed Al-Taay, Nicholas Pennington, Youstin Salas, Fin Conchie, Matt Sheridan; Attackers: Kosta Barbarouses, Oskar Zawada, David Ball, Oskar van Hattum.

Melbourne Victory

Phoenix - Figure 3
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Coach Tony Popovic of the Victory. Photo: Masanori Udagawa/Photosport

Tony Popovic sprung something of a surprise with the inclusion of Roly Bonevacia from the start last week, with star midfield creator Zinedine Machach missing through suspension. The Frenchman remains absent, so the Victory boss again needs to decide how best to replace him, with Jake Brimmer an option to come into the starting XI.

Daniel Arzani looked dangerous off the bench last week and it would not be a surprise to see him given the chance to shine in the capital this weekend.

Leigh Broxham and Stefan Nigro are back in contention.

Goalkeepers: Paul Izzo, Christian Siciliano; Defenders: Jason Geria, Adama Traore, Damien Da Silva, Roderick Miranda, Connor Chapman, Kasey Bos, Stefan Nigro. Midfielders: Jordi Valadon, Leigh Broxham, Jake Brimmer, Salim Khelifi, Ryan Teague, Roly Bonevacia, Fabian Monge. Attackers: Chris Ikonomidis, Bruno Fornaroli, Ben Folami, Nishan Velupillay, Daniel Arzani.

Phoenix - Figure 4
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Recent meetings

12 May 2024 Victory 0-0 Phoenix

12 April 2024 Phoenix 1-0 Victory

19 January 2024 Phoenix 1-1 Victory

Prediction

Giancarlo Italiano doesn't mind a draw. Photo: AAP / www.photosport.nz

Surely this is the Phoenix's year to break their 17-year hoodoo and reach a first ever Grand Final?

The stage is perfectly set. Big rivals as opponents, a stalemate first leg, a packed out stadium, an against-all-odds story. The final piece of the puzzle is a Phoenix victory.

Of course, football has absolutely no regard for perfect plotlines or dream-come-true endings and predicting a Phoenix win out of pure nostalgia would be an act of folly.

Instead, we can back the Phoenix based on their magnificent home record, winning their last six at The Cake Tin and their superior defensive record, which looked under minimal threat a week ago.

Snatch one, then another with the Victory chasing and the Phoenix will be on the brink of even further history.

Phoenix - Figure 5
Photo RNZ

Wellington Phoenix 2-0 Melbourne Victory.

Central Coast Mariners v Sydney

Kickoff: 9.45pm Saturday, 18 May (NZT)

Central Coast Stadium, Gosford

Mikael Doka of the Mariners (left) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal in stoppage time during the A-League Men Round 23 match between the Central Coast Mariners and Wellington Phoenix at Industree Group Stadium in Gosford. Photo: AAP / www.photosport.nz

Amid the excitement of Phoenix-mania we can't forget the other semi-final takes place Saturday night, with the 'Nix's potential final opponents set to be decided.

It's advantage Central Coast going into the second-leg, following a controversial 2-1 win at Sydney last weekend.

Unfortunately, the referee took centre-stage on that occasion and hopefully, the players can be the stars of the show this time around.

Sydney remain without star player Joe Lolley for this fixture, as well as Jack Rodwell, suspended after his red card last week.

With that in mind, and considering the Mariners' incredible season, which has already seen them lift two trophies, it is hard to see anything other than a Mariners win and a successive Grand Final appearance for Mark Jackson's men.

Prediction

Central Coast Mariners 3-1 Sydney.

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