Football round-up: Phoenix create a verb as Rufer rises from ashes

Wellington Phoenix’s moniker lends itself to an easy and often lazy trope. Often they are described as ‘rising from the ashes’ whenever they overcome any sort of adversity. Trust me, I use it all the time. But perhaps it is their nickname that now better resembles how the Wellington Phoenix are going about their business.

Known as the abbreviated ”Nix’ since their inception, this now appears to be a very appropriate tag, especially in the post-match hum of their A-League semi-final first leg at Melbourne Victory.

Nix – it’s a fancier word for reject. To be nixed is to be denied, often at the last minute or despite a general belief or the warranting of reward. On Sunday night, the Phoenix did just that to Melbourne Victory. They rejected their continual advances on goal. Most of their attacks were stopped short before they entered the box. The crowd’s momentum was, indeed, nixed, by the Phoenix’s ability to shut off attack after attack after attack.

It has been one of the trademark abilities of Giancarlo Italiano’s side since he took the job in the summer. Victory became the latest side to be ‘Phoe-nixed’. A new word, a verb, meaning ‘to be allowed to dominate but at a safe distance, with no real danger or threat of overcoming the obstacle’.

The result was a 0-0 draw at AAMI Park in the first leg of the Finals Series semi-final. It’s a result the Phoenix would have undoubtedly taken before the game and leaves everything to play for at what should be a busy Sky Stadium this Saturday.

But the old ‘rising from ashes’ trope need not die. Because the ‘Nix’s star performer on Saturday certainly fits that bill. Alex Rufer was rightly named man-of-the-match after covering every blade of grass in a perpetually dynamic display.

The club captain always had a question mark coming up through the Phoenix youth system. Doubts persisted over his athleticism and skill set. But he persevered, eventually becoming a regular feature in the first team in 2018 and going on to earn the captain’s armband. Then came a devastating knee injury in 2022 which might have curtailed another’s career trajectory. Originally ruled out for a year, Rufer was back after nine months and has arguably been even better ever since.

If he can put in another performance like he did on Sunday night, it is hard to see how the Victory will break down the staunch Phoenix defensive unit. Then, all they will need is to pinch a goal, and a first-ever Grand Final awaits them.

In other football news:

  • The Premier League title race in England will go down to the final day following the weekend’s action. Manchester City beat Fulham 4-0 to go top but only briefly, as Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Manchester United saw them summit the following day. However, City, just one point behind the Gunners, have a game in hand in midweek against Tottenham Hotspur so can still enter the final day next weekend top of the pile.
  • At the other end of the table, the relegation battle is over. Burnley joined Sheffield United in an immediate drop back to the Championship and Luton Town will be doing the same – bar a remarkable but not mathematically impossible turn of events on the final day. It means New Zealand’s biggest import, Chris Wood, will still be playing Premier League football with Nottingham Forest next season.
Chris Wood of Nottingham Forest applauds the fans

  • The UEFA Champions League final will see Borussia Dortmund take on Real Madrid at Wembley. The German side pulled a fast one on Paris Saint-Germain, ensuring Kylian Mbappe will leave the French champions having never won Europe’s grandest prize. Real Madrid, Mbappe’s destination, swatted aside Dortmund’s perennial German rivals Bayern Munich in the other semi-final. Joselu was once a flop in England with Stoke City and Newcastle United – but the Spaniard’s two late goals ensured Bayern, and their high-profile summer signing Harry Kane, end the season trophyless.
  • Meanwhile, our own region’s Champions League got underway this week and Auckland City’s stranglehold on the competition they have won nine times out of the last 11 attempts looks under threat, following a 2-2 draw in their opener with Fiji’s Rewa FC. The 2024 OFC Champions League features eight teams from across the Oceania region and is taking place in Tahiti until May 28.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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