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Oct 4, 2012

Phoenix face del Piero dilemma

One name overshadows Wellington Phoenix's opening A-League match of the season against Sydney FC on Saturday.

But Italy and Juventus legend Alessandro del Piero is far from their only concern, coach Ricki Herbert and captain Andrew Durante agree.

Del Piero scored 290 goals in a 19-year career with Juventus, and was part of Italy's World Cup-winning team of 2006.

His two-year signing with Sydney has boosted the club's profile, and that of the A-League, since it was first announced early last month.

But Herbert was wary of isolating the 37-year-old striker as the only danger facing the Phoenix at Wellington's Westpac Stadium.

"I don't think there can be too much sole concentration on del Piero," Herbert said.

"We hugely respect what he's done and what he could potentially do in the A-League. He's an incredibly talented player. But we've got to get it right ourselves, otherwise other players in the team will be a problem for us."

He says Sydney have recruited well with a new-look front-line which offers speed and variation.

"If we can stop the supply of ball into them, that's certainly going to help. If we don't, we're probably going to have double the problems."

Durante's take on the Italian superstar is equally cautious.

"It's not all just about del Piero," he said after training on Friday.

"He'll have the respect he deserves, because he's a quality player. But I don't think anyone's going to be starstruck at all."

Durante again marshals an experienced back-four including Ben Sigmund and Tony Lochhead, the only change coming from the introduction of Leo Bertos at right-back following Tim Brown's retirement.

Defensive midfielder Manny Muscat will also have an important role to play.

"Manny will have most of the job on del Piero, and we all know what Manny's like - he'll tackle anyone and win the ball, no matter who it is," Durante said.

The Phoenix also bring something of a new look this season.

Young Solomon Islander Benjamin Totori, All Whites striker Jeremy Brockie and former Belgium international Stein Huysegems provided plenty of options up front.

Herbert has also been impressed with the work of 19-year-old winger Louis Fenton, who looks likely to start as Paul Ifill works his way back to match fitness after a pre-season knee injury.

He says that variation is a key difference to the Phoenix team which beat Sydney 3-2 in last season's play-off elimination final.

"If we can add a little bit of a different dimension to the goal-scoring department, our season will be better still," he said.

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