WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The long odyssey of New Zealand’s Wellington Phoenix football team, which changed countries to continue in Australia’s A-League during the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, almost.
The story of the Phoenix has become emblematic of the sacrifices made by players to allow professional sport to continue in the pandemic era.
The Phoenix left New Zealand for Australia in June to finish a season which then had only a few regular season rounds and playoff matches to run.
On Saturday, almost three months after its departure, the competitive part of the season ended when the Phoenix were beaten 1-0 by the Perth Glory in the first stage of the playoffs after finishing the regular season in third place, a club record.
Now the Phoenix players face a further two weeks of mandatory isolation in New Zealand before they finally can be reunited with family and friends.
The Phoenix spent two weeks in quarantine when it first arrived in Australia, though players were able to train at a secure facility. A virus outbreak in Australia’s Victoria state further disrupted the A-League season and prolonged the team's absence from New Zealand.
Coach Ufuk Talay would not use the team’s long exile as an excuse for their loss on Saturday, telling a post-match news conference “I don’t see it as a burden.”
Because New Zealand and Australia’s borders are open only to returning New Zealand citizens and residents, the status of the teams overseas players had been in doubt. But arrangements were made which allowed them to enter Australia and they are now able to return to their home nations.
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