Western Sydney Wanderers return to A-League against Wellington Phoenix

admin | 杭州桑拿
4 Dec 2018

And the fans go wild: But now the Wanderers must return to A-League.From the heights of taking out the Asian Champions League in front of 70,000 screaming Saudi Arabian fans last Sunday morning, it’s a fair way back to earth for the Western Sydney Wanderers as they resume their A-League campaign this weekend.

While the season is still young, the Wanderers won’t like the look of the table, sitting equal last with Brisbane Roar, even if they’ve played two fewer games than most other sides. However, fourth-placed Perth Glory are already nine points ahead and the top three, Melbourne Victory, Adelaide United and Sydney FC, are another point away. As it happens, the Wanderers will need their passports once again as they are travelling internationally – albeit to New Zealand – to face the Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium on Friday night.

While the sheen of their continental triumph is likely to remain for weeks and months to come, the Wanderers begrudgingly accept they have to get back into the domestic groove, starting with one of the league’s more taxing away trips. Coach Tony Popovic said he wants the players to harness the self-belief of winning in Asia to drive them to A-League success after losing the past two grand finals.

“That’s part of my job to make sure our minds are clear and focused on the job at hand and we’ll make sure they are by Friday,” he said at training on Wednesday. “We do have to move onto the A-League and put it [winning the ACL] to the side. But it should stay in the back of everyone’s minds. It’s a fantastic achievement, we’re the champions of Asia and we’ve got to use the power of winning that tournament in this tough period we’ve got now of shifting our focus into the A-League.”

Wanderers captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley admitted his teammates would continue to bask in the glory of their achievement for a while yet but said there was no reason it would affect their domestic ambitions.

“We should feel like champions but that’s not getting in the way of winning games in the A-League. We’re not going to get carried away and think that’s gonna get us over the line,” he said. “We’re going to work hard because that’s what got us an Asian Champions League medal.”

The sour note of the victory in the ACL is the shoulder injury to Brendon Santalab, who won’t been seen until 2015. The 32-year old striker dislocated his shoulder during the first-leg win over Al-Hilal in Parramatta before soldiering on to lead the line at the King Fahd Stadium. Unfortunately for Santalab, that bravery has ended with him needing to go under the knife, ruling him out for several weeks. He will also miss the Club World Cup in Morocco, to be held in mid-December.

“He did a fantastic job for us in the second leg. He was in excruciating pain,” Popovic said. “He played nearly 60 minutes for us and we’ll forever be grateful for that and his reward is an Asian Champions League medal. Unfortunately, now we’ve got to help him fix his shoulder.”

But aside from the absent striker, Popovic says he’s got a relatively full squad to select from. Also coming into contention for A-League duties are striker Nikita Rukavytsya and winger Romeo Castelen, with the attacking duo signed too late to compete in the ACL. “[This] is our first session since the final, since we got back. The players are all buoyant and in a good mood, as you’d expect,” Popovic said. “We’re not carrying any injuries from the game, which is a positive. We’ll see how they look today and we’ll have to make some decisions on who can and can’t travel.”

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