Full stadium would give Phoenix ‘the extra half a goal that we need’

Wellington Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano says they go into the second leg of the A-league semi-final with “destiny in our own hands” after his side’s big defensive effort last night.

The Wellington Phoenix drew 0-all with Melbourne Victory in their first leg A-League semi-final in Melbourne.

Melbourne dominated possession and territory, but the Phoenix defence – as it has been throughout the season – was well-organised and remained structured.

The two sides head to Wellington on Saturday for the second leg of the tie, with the winner advancing to football’s A-League final.

Italiano said his side played positive in the first half an hour and had some very big moments.

“I think that we could have capitalised. I think once the Victory settled they started getting on top and we defended quite well for large parts of the game,” Italiano said.

Melbourne Victory had 19 shots on goal – five of those on target – compared to the Wellington Phoenix’s six, none of which were recorded as on target – but Italiano never felt any panic.

“My gauge of how effective teams are is on their big chances, and big chances for me are chances developed behind the defensive line …if they can get in behind your defence, you’re in trouble.

“I think once they were shooting you know, from 25 metres, 30 metres, it was more a set piece opportunity or a little deflection, or some sort of error that would have gifted them a goal.”

Phoenix skipper Alex Rufer reacts at the final whistle.

Could his side have played with more creativity?

“Victory have one of the strongest squads in the league, and they couldn’t break us down for the amount of creative players that they had, I think we had the biggest chances.

“I think what we lacked was just more consistency over the 90 minutes. I could always be hopeful for more creativity, but it’s the context of the game. I don’t think there’s many semi-finals where there’s a goal fest. I think it just comes down to one or two big moments in a game and teams capitalize so I was very happy with the way the team performed.”

Italiano told RNZ he would take a slightly different tack in the build up to the second leg.

“It’ll be more scaled back in terms of the physical part. It’ll be more content driven with video and just a simple tactics board. And we’re just going to get through what our messaging is, and what’s important.

“It will be a normal week but again, it’s not about loading the players at this stage, they’ve already run enough all season I think they are fit enough, it’s more about the mental sharpness.”

Italiano said the dynamic was different for a home game.

Phoenix striker Bozhidar Kraev is fouled by Melbourne Victory's Jordi Valadon in their first leg semi-final of the A-League at AMMI Park in Melbourne.

“The away team has to factor in that they’re not accustomed to that sort of travel. They’ve also played an extra game in the last two weeks, so we should be more fresh. Every game we’ve played at home, we’re pretty much on the front foot, and it’ll be no different this game.”

Momentum is building for the semi-final on Saturday, with nearly 19,000 tickets sold so far for Wellington’s Sky Stadium.

“I’m hoping that we can crack at least 25,000. The optimist in me would like to see a full stadium of 34,000 – it can happen. I think this is going to be a game about celebrating our achievement … whatever happens happens, but you know, it will be for the fans.”

He said the impact of a full house could not be underestimated.

“I think that would be the extra half a goal that we need. Support at home is always underplayed [but] it’s always a massive advantage.

“The Victory had the crowd on their side and they were putting extra runs in, taking the initiative. If we can get close to that, even a parochial crowd where they’re just vocal, that will get us over the line I think.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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