A dispute between teammates almost cost the Phoenix

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Although Wellington Phoenix came away with the win against Central Coast Mariners on Saturday, it could have been a bit more comfortable after Reno Piscopo and Ben Waine disagreed over a late penalty. 

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Up 2-1, it was substitute Ben Old who drew the penalty when he was taken out early by Central Coast defender Kye Rowles in the 85th minute. With regular spot-kick taker Gary Hooper sitting on the bench, it left the window open for someone else to take the shot. 

Up-stepped young striker Ben Waine, who had surprisingly been demoted to the bench and only came on in the 63rd minute.  

Standing on the spot with the ball in his hands, it seemed that the rest of this process was pretty clear cut for the striker and the Nix.

But unfortunately for Wellington fans, this process was anything but simple. Moments after heading to the spot Waine found teammate Reno Piscopo standing behind him, seemingly suggesting that he should be the one taking the penalty.

Waine, who either didn’t hear his teammate or didn’t want to hear him, continued with the process of setting up for the pen.

Piscopo had started the game and is thought of by many as the Nix’s best playmaker this season. After being ignored, he seemingly gave up on arguing his case, only to turn back around and attempt to convince Waine one more time. 

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This time the 20-year-old heard his fellow forward, quickly spinning around with a shocked look on his face, pointing to himself. This was enough to end the debate as a frustrated Piscopo turned and walked away, head down, not looking at any of his confused teammates. 

Moments later, Waine’s penalty was saved by Mariners keeper Mark Birighitti.

Should Waine have given the starting Piscopo the penalty? Should Piscopo have let a confident Waine just take the shot after seeing that he was prepared to do so?

Either way this this disagreement should never have happened at such a key moment.   

Although there are many football fans that would agree with me and believe this dispute was a reason for the miss, Nix coach Ufuk Talay seemed fine with the process that took place.

“Players miss penalties it does happen in football,” said Talay.

“Whoever felt confidant should have taken the penalty and Waine felt confident.

“Reno wanted to step up and Waine stood his ground and like I said people miss penalties it happens, but Waine knows that next time he stands up he’s got to put it in the back of the net.” 

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What also seems strange is that in such a key moment, there seemed to be no-one who could quicly end the debate and make the final call. 

With captain Alex Rufer subbed off, keeper Oli Sail was the man who was wearing the armband but he was standing on the other side of the field, probably unaware of the disagreement taking place.

But even if a captain had been there to choose, it seems that Talay prefers that the players make the final call, depending on game flow and who feels up to it. 

“We don’t put the onus on players with set penalty takers because it depends on how the games going, how the players feel at the time,” he said. 

“I think it’s great that they both want to step up and take the penalty but let’s not move away from the game we played, overall we played a great game.”

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After the miss, Piscopo who had played a fantastic game, has subbed off. The Australian player was visibly frustrated as he trudged off the pitch.

Although we don’t know what was said, he did share some thoughts on the recent events with his coach as he walked past. 

Like all sport, football takes both mental and physical strength. If anything, the mini debate that took place before the shot would have cast some doubt in Waine’s mind about his ability to score from the spot.

Birighitti made a great save and Waine’s strike was on target, but we will never know if this was where the young Kiwi wanted to place the ball when he first stood up to take the penalty.

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Even with the miss, the good news for Nix fans is their team did manage to hold on a secure all three points against a tough opposition who created plenty of chances over the last 10 minutes. 

However for the first time, a team that seems so in sync showed the slightest signs of a crack. It will now just be a waiting game to see if this is just a small blip in the road for both players as the Nix continue to soar away from home. 

Feature image credit: Wellington Phoenix 

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Harry Bartle
Harry is a young Journalist based in Wellington. He will be covering the Wellington Phoenix during the 2021/22 season for the Football Sack and has a love hate relationship with Ulises Davila

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