SYDNEY (AP) — Australia’s A-League is set to kick off next month with organizers predicting domestic borders will be open and the only club that needs to be relocated because of COVID-19 restrictions is the New Zealand-based Wellington Phoenix.
The soccer season schedule was released Tuesday and features games in four states in the opening two rounds, expanding to Western Australia in the third.
Western Sydney Wanderers will get the season started against expansion club Macarthur FC in Parramatta on Dec. 27, and defending champion Sydney FC will open against Melbourne City on Dec. 30.
The Wellington Phoenix has been listed to play its home games at Wollongong, south of Sydney, but could possibly return to New Zealand if international border restrictions are eased. The Phoenix will open the season away against Brisbane Roar and then host Sydney FC in Wollongong on Jan. 2.
“This has been one of the most challenging fixture processes we’ve ever been involved in because of the continually evolving restrictions, but our priority has always been bringing the best football to fans in the safest way, working with all our stakeholders to do so,” Football Federation Australia’s head of leagues Greg O’Rourke said.
Wellington Phoenix spent almost three months in exile in Australia in a bio-secure bubble in order to complete the 2019-20 season and, after a break in New Zealand, assembled near Sydney again earlier this month.
Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay said conditions were better now now because the families and partners of players were in Australia with the team and the accommodation options less restrictive.
“We had a three-week pre-season camp and now the players have all moved into their places where they’re going to be living whilst we play the season in Australia,” Talay said. “There was a little bit more normality to it than it what it was previously when we were confined to a hotel and the training ground and then a stadium.
“That has helped. We’re not on top of each other and people have got their own spaces.”
The various domestic border restrictions in Australia’s eastern states are set to lifted on Dec. 1 following the recovery in Melbourne from a second save of the coronavirus which shut down Victoria state for several months.
The Western Australia-based Perth Glory don’t have a scheduled home game until Jan. 16.
The women’s and men’s leagues will open on the same day, with a double-header involving Wanderers and Melbourne City in the W-League along with the Wanderers against Macarthur in the A-League.
The start of the soccer season will compete for attention with the traditional summer sports highlights in Australia, including the Boxing Day cricket test between Australia and India in Melbourne and the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race starting Dec. 26, and potentially some international tennis.
The regular season is set to finish on May 31.
The previous A-League season started on Oct. 11, 2019 and, because of a four-month shutdown, wasn’t completed until Aug. 30 when Sydney FC beat Melbourne City 1-0 in the grand final.
Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory and Perth Glory are in Qatar this week aiming to complete the group stage of the Asian Champions League. A 14-day hotel quarantine will be enforced when players and staff return to Australia.
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