Outstanding Phoenix season comes to end in extra time at packed Sky Stadium

posted in: A-League (Men), News

The Wellington Phoenix’s record-breaking men’s A-League season has come to a premature end, despite the best efforts of the club’s biggest-ever crowd.

The Phoenix have fallen to an agonising 2-1 extra time defeat to Melbourne Victory in the deciding second leg of their semi-final in front of 33,297 screaming fans at Sky Stadium.

Victory substitute Chris Ikonomidis’ 102nd-minute goal proved to be the match-winner, after Oskar Zawada had dramatically scored with the final kick of regulation to send the match into extra time.

Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano felt a bit numb after the match.

“If we’d come here and didn’t make chances and weren’t in the game and they scored the way they did, I could accept that,” Italiano said.

“[But] we had so much of the ball, we made so many chances [and] we were very brave.

“I was disappointed with the two goals we conceded, just uncharacteristic.”

Phoenix players mob Oskar Zawada after his goal in stoppage time.

He’ll forever remember Zawada’s 99th minute equaliser, which sent the record crowd into raptures.

“I’ve never felt a buzz like that in my life,” Italiano said.

“I’m lucky I’ve been to a Superclásico game, I’ve been to a World Cup. That was an amazing feeling, something I’ll never forget and hopefully the fans will never forget.

“It’d be a dream of mine to think that one day every game is like that. It’s possible in Europe. It’s possible in South America, all across the world.

“I think the league can get healthy enough that we can have that rivalry and every game is sold out. It doesn’t have to be 33 [thousand]. It can still be 10/15, but to have that atmosphere every game would be unbelievable.

“I thought that was one thing that would have stopped Victory taking that next step and they would have just defended and played for penalties. But they dug deep, they deserved to win and that’s football.”

And Italiano believes his team will ultimately be better for the experience.

“I’m really happy in the sense that I think the group needed this if they’re to grow.

“It’s going to be fuel for next year. If we want to be a team that consistently churns and fights for these positions, we really need to make the most of this experience.

“I think a lot of those boys that experienced that today are going to take that away and are going to use that in order to be successful next year, especially the young guys.”

Melbourne Victory head coach Tony Popovich.

Italiano starts with unchanged line-up

Giancarlo Italiano named an unchanged starting XI and bench for the semi-final second leg, while Victory coach Tony Popovic made one change to his starting line-up, bringing in Daniel Arzani in place of Salim Khelifi.

Arzani registered the first shot of the match in the fifth minute when he skied a shot well over the bar.

Moments later Kosta Barbarouses was slipped in behind the Victory defence by Ben Old, who had burst down the left flank. Victory captain Roderick Miranda recovered just enough to put Barbarouses off his shot and he was unable to beat Paul Izzo in Melbourne’s goal.

Barbarouses felt he was held back by Miranda, but referee Daniel Elder waved away his penalty claims. Tim Payne also thought he was fouled by Arzani soon after, on the edge of the Victory box, but his appeal too fell on deaf ears.

Daniel Arzani was the visitors’ most dangerous player in the first half and Finn Surman was twice forced to produce crucial blocks to deny the winger a shot on goal.

Between Arzani’s shots, Old struck the side-netting, and Barbarouses had a shot deflect out for a corner. Scott Wootton headed the resulting set piece into the ground and straight into Izzo’s arms.

The Phoenix had the better of the possession for the first half hour and created the better opportunities, without really testing the Victory goalkeeper.

Alex Paulsen wasn’t called upon to make a save in the first half, with Surman blocking two of the visitors’ three shots. Alex Rufer also made a great sliding tackle in his own box in the 31st minute to prevent Melbourne fullback Adam Traore getting through on goal.

The Victory’s only other shot of the first half came five minutes later when Daniel Arzani fizzed an effort narrowly wide of goal after cutting onto his right foot at the top of the box.

The Nix had the final chance of the half when Nicholas Pennington dinked a clever ball over the top for Old, hwho managed to get his head to it but couldn’t beat Izzo.

Surman made another block early in the second half to snuff out an opportunity for Nishan Velupillay, but otherwise Wellington monopolised possession and regularly tested the Victory defence.

The Phoenix had a great opportunity in the 50th minute when Old cut into the box and stood up a cross to the back post. Unfortunately for Bozhidar Kraev and Wellington his header went narrowly wide.

Shortly after the hour mark the Nix were awarded a penalty following intervention from the video assistant referee after Arzani was deemed to have committed a hand ball in the Victory box as he attempted to cut out a Tim Payne cross.

Rufer stepped up to the spot and he was sensationally denied by Paul Izzo, who made a stunning save, full-stretch to his right before saving Kraev’s follow-up.

Tony Popovic made a triple change soon after, bringing on Salim Khelifi, Ben Folami and Jake Brimmer for Nishan Velupillay, Daniel Arzani and Jordi Valadon respectively. Giancarlo Italiano responded by making his first substitution, with Oskar van Hattum replacing David Ball.

Bruno Fornaroli had a great chance to break the deadlock in the 69th minute when he found some rare space in the Phoenix box, but Alex Paulsen produced a sharp reflex save to deny the Socceroos striker.

The Nix came within centimetres of going ahead five minutes later when Ben Old smashed a shot against the left post after creating space for himself in the visitors’ penalty area.

Instead, it was Victory who took the lead in the 81st minute courtesy of a thumping left-footed effort from fullback Adam Traore that found the far corner of Paulsen’s goal.

The visitors had another opportunity five minutes later fall to the feet of substitute Folami, but his first-time effort was well held by Alex Paulsen.

The Phoenix otherwise dominated possession and pushed numbers forward in search of an equaliser.

Oskar Zawada scores to send the game into extra time.

They were finally rewarded for their endeavour in the ninth minute of time added on when Barbarouses unselfishly headed down to Zawada, who slotted his shot past a hapless Paul Izzo and sparked the 33,000 plus crowd to life.

It turned out to be the last kick of normal time and there was a buzz inside Sky Stadium as the game entered extra time.

The Nix continued to control proceedings and had the first chance of extra time with Rufer volleying over the bar.

Otherwise they struggled to break down the resolute Victory defence.

The visitors soon struck down the other end, with Ikonomidis scoring from a corner in the 102nd minute, nodding home at the back post after a flick-on from captain Roderick Miranda.

Wellington’s best chances in the first half of extra time came in time added on, but this time there was to be no dramatic equaliser. A diving header from Youstin Salas sailed over the bar and Zawada had a shot deflect wide of goal.

Victory had the first couple of shots of the second period of extra time, but, spurred on by the vocal crowd, the Phoenix starting creating opportunities of their own, with van Hattum and Salas particularly lively after coming off the bench.

Ben Old came close to scoring a spectacular equaliser in the 119th minute, with his thunderous volley pulled narrowly wide of the near post.

The Nix had one more chance from a left-wing corner in the one minute of additional time. Unfortunately for the team and their raucous fans Oskar Zawada’s header was straight at Paul Izzo and the final whistle was blown, bringing an end to the Wellington Phoenix’s record-breaking A-League season.

The Melbourne Victory will now face Central Coast Mariners in the A-League grand final in Gosford next Saturday night.

Match highlights


Games played on Saturday May 18, 2024

Semi-final 2, second leg

Wellington Phoenix 1 (Oskar Zawada 90+9′)
Melbourne Victory 2 (Adama Traoré 82′, Chris Ikonomidis 102′)
*After extra time. Victory win 2-1 on aggregate.


Wellington Phoenix

40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN (26. Isaac HUGHES 111th), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE (12. Mo AL-TAAY 111th), 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 10. David BALL (24. Oskar VAN HATTUM 66th), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (9. Oskar ZAWADA 73rd), 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (17. Youstin SALAS 85th), 19. Sam SUTTON (18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD 111th).

Unused substitutes: 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk).

Melbourne Victory

20. Paul IZZO (gk), 2. Jason GERIA, 3. Adama TRAORE (37. Kasey BOS 120th), 5. Damien DA SILVA, 10. Bruno FORNAROLI (7. Chris IKONOMIDIS 90+5), 17. Nishan VELUPILLAY (23. Salim KHELIFI 66th), 19. Daniel ARZANI (11. Ben FOLAMI 66th), 21. Roderick MIRANDA (c), 25. Ryan TEAGUE, 27. Jordi VALADON (22. Jake BRIMMER 66th), 28. Roly BONEVACIA (14. Connor CHAPMAN 86th).

Unused substitutes: 40. Christian SICILIANO (gk),.


19. Daniel ARZANI (Melbourne Victory) – yellow – 30′
17. Youstin SALAS (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 90+2′
14. Connor CHAPMAN (Melbourne Victory) – yellow – 98′


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