Football round-up: Best of rivals for Phoenix finals adventure

Wellington Phoenix now know who stands between them and their first-ever A-League grand final following the elimination finals over the weekend and it couldn’t be a more perfect rival.

Melbourne Victory stunned their Victoria counterparts Melbourne City, securing a win on penalties despite playing much of the game with just 10 men following Zinedine Machach’s first-half red card.

Victory keeper Paul Izzo was the hero, saving three penalties in the shootout, as well as one from Tolgay Arslan in regulation time. Not content with being impassable between the sticks, the 29-year-old even stuck one in from 12 yards in what is surely one of the most belligerent and brilliant performances in finals series football history.

Next year, the Phoenix will finally have a local rival, with the emergence of Auckland FC, but until now, having a genuine rivalry within the A-League has been something of a rotational affair – dependent on which other team appears to be their proximal villain. Recently, the Victory have become one such team.

It is not entirely new. As far back as 2011, the Victory were the Nix’s opponents in the A-League ‘Rivalry Round’. That’s the same year a 19-year-old Marco Rojas was lured away from the capital to the Victory, despite his initial academy spot at the Nix being funded by the Yellow Fever supporters’ group.

Marco Rojas

In more recent times, Phoenix fans revelled in the Victory’s disappointing campaign last year, despite the embarrassment of talent they lured including ex-Manchester United star Nani. The Victory, meanwhile, hold some sort of benevolent power over Phoenix at their AAMI Park home.

The Nix have a woeful record there, although head coach Giancarlo Italiano seems to be revelling in the chance to cast aside that hex in their semi-final first-leg this weekend.

Some of the Phoenix’s more braindead fans even had an ill-informed foray into amateur hooliganism earlier this season, with fisticuffs thrown during a heated clash at Sky Stadium. Away from this act of stupidity, the two teams’ fanbases on ‘Sokkah Twitter’ have had a playful and jibing virtual tit-for-tat for most of this season.

Youstin Salas of the Phoenix during the A-League - Wellington Phoenix FC v Melbourne Victory FC at Sky Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand on Friday 12 2024
Copyright photo: Masanori Udagawa /

The reason is clear. The margin of difference between the two sides is extremely slim. The semi-final tie will be decided on aggregate over two legs and if this season’s meetings between the two are anything to go by it will be a tight affair. Two 1-1 draws preceded a 1-0 triumph for the Phoenix in April, courtesy of Finn Surman’s last-minute header – an act which fanned the fuels of this burgeoning hostility.

It certainly adds a layer of spice to what should be a taut clash over two legs. With ticket sales tracking well for the second leg at Sky Stadium, it seems the general public is slowly getting on board the Phoenix bandwagon. Here’s hoping it can roll on beyond the 18th and into a grand final.

In other football news:

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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