Phoenix to play first matches in New Zealand for more than a year

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SYDNEY (Reuters) - Wellington Phoenix will play a match in front of their fans in New Zealand for the first time in over a year when they take on Western United next month, the A-League said on Friday.

The sole New Zealand team in the Australian soccer league, Phoenix were forced to decamp to the other side of the Tasman Sea last year when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down travel between the two countries.

The opening of a "travel bubble" between Australia and New Zealand earlier this month, however, has allowed Phoenix to host their last two home games of the season in front of their own fans.

They will take on Western United in the New Zealand capital on May 22 before heading north to face Perth Glory at Auckland's Eden Park on May 30.

Their last match in New Zealand was a 3-0 win over Melbourne Victory on March 15, 2020.

The club, currently eighth in the 12-team league, were forced to see out the 2020 season in a Sydney hub and returned to Australia in November to prepare for the 2021 campaign in Wollongong, where they have played their home matches this year.

"Being away for so long hasn't been easy for the players and staff by any stretch of the imagination," A-League chief Greg O'Rourke said in a statement.

"The fact they have done so without complaints, and just as importantly have played some great football along the way, is testament to Ufuk Talay and his players."

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, Editing by Karishma Singh)