Football: Wellington Phoenix face COVID-depleted Melbourne City in FFA Cup, eye first semi-final appearance

Wellington Phoenix might not get a better opportunity to advance to the final four of the Australian FFA Cup than they now have, facing a COVID-depleted Melbourne City side on Wednesday night.

After their FFA Cup quarter-final was postponed at the end of December due to positive COVID cases in the Melbourne City camp, the Phoenix will run out on Wednesday against a side still weakened by the outbreak of the virus.

Melbourne City's squad is so impacted by the outbreak of the Omicron variant across the Tasman that only five of their first team squad have returned a negative test.

While the Phoenix have also been impacted with three positive tests of their own, Ufuk Talay's side will at the very least boast match fitness in the quarter-final, with Melbourne City not having played since December 18.

And while the midweek fixture will likely see a rotated Phoenix side in order to keep players fresh for the upcoming A-League clash against Newcastle Jets on Saturday, Talay still recognises the chance he has to book a maiden spot in the tournament's semi-finals. 

"I think it's a good opportunity for our players," he says.

"We've got a very young, inexperienced squad, playing against last season's champions.

"What a great opportunity to go out there, play some football and show what they can do."

What's more the chance to hand younger inexperienced players gametime in such a big clash will benefit the Phoenix in the future, Talay adds.

The clash against the reigning A-League champions will see more than one rookie given a chance to shine, even if a loss would mean a cup exit for the Kiwi side. 

"I think it'll be a massive confidence boost for our younger players, to be able to show that they can step up and play against last season's champions," Talay adds.

"It's a great opportunity for these players to grab the jersey while they can. 

"This is one of the season's where we've been hindered by a lot of things, and opportunities have arisen for younger players coming through our academy to step up and players from last season to continue on as well.

"We're playing this season with the thought of what we're going to do for next season as well. So there's a lot of opportunities for these players to grab the jersey and continue on."

The Phoenix have also been assured that Wednesday's game will go ahead after the first scheduled meeting between the two sides was postponed at the last minute, due to Melbourne City's COVID surge.

"We got some information yesterday from the FFA that the game is good to go.

"We're travelling down today after training, so hopefully we get there and play the game.

"We need to play these games, otherwise there's going to be a massive backlog in the backend of the season."