ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO survived an injury scare just a day after signing a one-year contract extension with Sydney FC when a collision with youngster Terry Antonis at Friday's training session left him in pain and strapped with ice.
Del Piero and Antonis clashed shins while vying for the ball during the final minutes of a practice match, and the former Juventus captain displayed his agony by slamming his fist into the ground. He finished the rest of the exercise before receiving treatment and his right leg was strapped with a large ice pack as he left the field. Coach Frank Farina said his marquee escaped any serious injury, and he expected him to be fit to start against Melbourne Heart on Sunday. ''I think just him and Antonis hit shins, that happens,'' Farina said.
Sydney's marquee star secured his future during the week after setting the club record for goals scored in a single season. But, Farina has already challenged Del Piero to deliver again against the Heart.
''It's great for the club, and he's very happy to stay, but that's got to show on Sunday. You can have a busy week or a good week but the most important thing is the game on Sunday,'' Farina said.
Del Piero's escape from injury ensured the Sydney FC coach will still have close to a full squad to choose from for the first time this season, as only long-term absentees Pascal Bosschaart and Kruno Lovrek remain unavailable. The Sky Blues have won their past two games but Farina has welcomed the returning players and the selection headache he faces before their trip to Melbourne.
''That's what you want at a football club - that you've got a strong squad. This is the first time … that we've got it all together. Some people will be a little bit disappointed but that's what happens at big clubs with big expectations,'' Farina said.
Del Piero will start in attack alongside Joel Griffiths after the latter served his three-match suspension for abusing a linesman, while Brett Emerton also returns from suspension, and will start at right midfield in place of Antonis. Farina will hand Socceroos captain Lucas Neill his Sydney FC debut in the heart of defence against the team he turned down just one week ago. His inclusion comes at the expense of Adam Griffiths, who had arguably his best performances in a Sydney FC shirt against Adelaide last week, with Neill partnering Brazilian centre-back Tiago Calvano.
Neill will become the eighth Sydney player to start a match at centre-back, and Farina hopes that his new defensive partnership with Tiago will bring much-needed stability to the Sky Blues back line.
''We'll see on Sunday; it will be the first time,'' Farina said. ''It's been difficult for us, chopping and changing. We haven't had a real lot of stability. I think that if we can get that in terms of our defensive line, we won't concede as many goals as we have.''
It's expected Neill will receive a frosty reception from Melbourne Heart fans after he turned his back on a proposed move to AAMI Park in favour of signing for Sydney at the 11th hour. Although the Socceroos captain is said to be unfazed by the Heart boo-boys.
''I'm not really bothered about what the fans will do, and I can certainly say Lucas won't be too bothered either,'' Farina said.
''It's a game of football, and they pay good money to see it, so they can do whatever they want.''
The story Re-signed Del Piero's injury scare of little concern to Farina first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.