Del Piero makes low-key A-League debut

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Alessandro Del Piero took his first tentative steps in Australian football on the losing team on Saturday as his Sydney FC club was beaten 2-0 by the Wellington Phoenix in the opening round of the 10-team A-League.

Though short on match fitness, the 37-year-old former Juventus and Italy star played a full 90 minutes in a low-key debut that may not have lived up to the anticipation generated by his arrival in the A-League as its costliest and most high-profile signing.

Del Piero started up front for Sydney but generally dropped back into midfield and provided a series of classy touches in a team that was substantially outplayed. He had unthreatening shots on goal in the 13th and 76th minutes, but hinted at much better things to come when his fitness improves.

"I am not satisfied -- we lost," Del Piero said. "But it was the first match. We need to do hard training, day by day, and think of the next game. After 10 matches, we can talk in general, but not now.

"I'm OK. I played 90 minutes but I need to do better. I need to improve. I'm enjoying it, but not for the result."

Saturday's match was played in wet and cool conditions in front of a crowd of 12,057 fans in a 34,500-capacity stadium that recently hosted a rugby test between New Zealand and Argentina.

Although his presence wasn't enough to carry Sydney to victory, he showed flashes of skill. He snapped a sharp, right-footed shot over the bar in the 13th minute in his first touch of the match and in the 76th minute, with more time, curled a long-range shot wide of the right-hand post.

In between those efforts he rolled deft passes into the path of teammates, showed the ability to turn and distribute the ball with a first touch that occasionally confounded defenders.

But the fireworks hoped for on his debut fizzled in damp and slippery conditions. And his thunder was stolen by two players making their Wellington debuts.

Striker Stein Huysegems, who failed to score in 15 international matches for Belgium, scored in the 42nd minute of his first A-League match. Huysegems ran onto a superb through ball from Manny Muscat, paused on the edge of the area and drove his low, left-foot shot wide of the 'keeper.

Teenager Louis Fenton, also making his A-League debut, added a brilliant second goal with a diving header from a Muscat cross in the 74th minute.