Rookie Football Ferns goalkeeper Anna Leat is getting her head around the fact she is on tour with the national team at the Cyprus Cup.
The 15-year-old from East Coast Bays was one of three uncapped players named in the Ferns squad for the Cyprus Cup, alongside midfielder Malia Steinmetz and forward Martine Puketapu, and she is hoping to make the most of her first international tour.
Leat, who was impressive at the FIFA U-17 World Cup last year in Jordan, said it was a special moment when she was called up to the senior team.
“I wasn’t really expecting it, I was in shock at first but then as it started to set in I just got more and more excited,” said Leat. “I went and told my mum and dad in the lounge. I ran in and we were all pretty excited.”
The news could be even better for Leat as Football Ferns coach Tony Readings has indicated that he will use all of his squad at some stage on this tour.
“The Cyprus Cup is a different beast,” he said. “You play four games in not a lot of time so how we utilise player and manage them is going to be a really big part of how successful we are. The opportunities for these players to get significant game time is a lot higher on this tour. I am hoping the new players take this opportunity with both hands and are not just there to make up the numbers.”
With four games in eight days, and only one other keeper in the squad in the experienced Erin Nayler, it is likely that Leat will see some game time on this tour. She is focused on working hard in training and learning as much as she can.
Leat said the team dynamics are similar to other age-group teams she has been part of but the standards with such high quality players are at a different level. She has found the early stages quite intimidating as she gets used to the feeling of being team-mates with players she has held as heroes for many years.
“Some of them I’ve looked up as a kid for a while and then getting to be on tour with them is pretty surreal but I’m just trying to learn as much from them as I can and take as much out of it as possible to become a better player from it,” she said.
Leat has shown she is good enough to not be overawed. In December, Readings threw her in the deep-end when he had her starting in goal for New Zealand A against Thailand in the opener at Mt Smart Stadium. Leat was up for the challenge.
She made a number of telling saves early in the game which proved crucial in the 2-0 win and Leat said it was pleasing to get some game time and learn the formation of the senior team.
Leat feels that her club football experience, where she often plays with the boys at East Coast Bays, has helped her transition to step up to the higher levels of international football.
She has set simple goals for this tour; to get as much game time as possible and learn from a squad that includes five players with more than 100 caps to their names.
“I just want to learn what it’s like being on tour with Ferns and just try to become better from it.”
You get the feeling that Anna Leat is going to be part of the Football Ferns for a long time.
Football Ferns' fixtures at the Cyprus Cup in NZ times:
Scotland Thursday 2 March 1.30am
Austria Saturday 4 March 1.30am
Republic of Korea Tuesday 7 March 4.30am
Playoff match Thursday 9 March TBC
For more on the Cyprus Cup visit http://www.cypruswomenscup.net/fixtures
New Zealand have saved their best for last to claim the OFC U-17 Championship title in style.
Danny Hay’s team, who defeated Samoa (11-0), Solomon Islands (2-1) and Fiji (5-0) before edging past Papua New Guinea 2-1 in their semi-final, put away New Caledonia 7-0 in hot conditions at the Stade Pater in Pirae, Tahiti to become six-time consecutive champions.
With both teams already qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India under the new rules, the final was all about claiming the honour of being the best team in the Oceania Football Confederation.
New Zealand coach Danny Hay said it was great to see his side fulfil their potential in the championship final.
“I’m really pleased for the players first and foremost,” said Hay. “They delivered a really complete performance tonight and let the shackles off. They were so nervous going into that semi-final game because there was so much riding on it. But we wanted to finish on a high and to show people what we are really capable of and we delivered some amazing stuff tonight.”
New Zealand went ahead in the 33rd minute when Elijah Just – one of the game’s standout individuals – was able to gets his foot to a long throw from Josh Rogerson. It was a deserved lead and there was more to come soon after.
Three minutes later, Wellington Phoenix U-20 rep Liberato Cacace doubled the lead when he hit a powerful shot from wide out which bounced in off the back post.
New Zealand had a host of other chances to score a third before the break, with Just in the thick of the action, but New Caledonia hung on to be 2-0 down at half-time.
As expected New Caledonia came back into the final after the break with Ezeckiel Taouavama and Ablezer Jeno creating goal scoring opportunities but they could not convert.
New Zealand weathered the storm and put the result beyond down when another promising Wellington Phoenix youngster Max Mata headed home on the end of a free kick from Just.
It was that one-two act that combined again for the fourth. Just like the first half the Kiwis scored two goals in quick succession. Just again laid it on with the free-kick, Mata received the ball and turned to fire home past New Caledonian keeper Germain Ita.
Moments after Mata had netted his double he was replaced by Charles Spragg up front and from there the floodgates had opened. Matthew Conroy fired the ball into goal after receiving a perfect through ball from Spragg for the fifth in the 70th minute.
Spragg, who scored four goals in the opening rout of Samoa, took his second touch of the ball after coming off the bench to make it 6-0 in the 72nd minute. It was his seventh goal of a highly successful campaign.
Matthew Palmer, who scored a hat-trick in the opener, also came off the bench to score in injury time and ensure the Kiwis finished on a high note. Moments later they held aloft the trophy and were celebrating as the U-17 champions of Oceania.
OFC U-17 Championship Final
New Zealand 7 (Elijah Just 30’, Liberato Cacace 33’’, Max Mata 62’, 67’, Matthew Conroy 70’, Charles Spragg 72’, Matthew Palmer 90’ + 1’) New Caledonia 0 HT 2-0
New Zealand U-17 team: 12. Zac Jones, 2. Jordan Spain, 3. Josh Rogerson, 4. Liberato Cacace, 6. Leon Van Den Hoven (8. Oliver Duncan), 7. Elijah Just, 9. Max Mata (Charles Spragg 69’) 11. Matthew Conroy (17. Matthew Palmer 79’), 14. Kingsley Sinclair, 15. Ben Deeley, 16. Oliver Whyte Subs not used: 1. Dylan Bennett, 5. Jake Williams, 12. Zac Jones
New Zealand have booked a berth at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India in dramatic fashion after a last-gasp win over Papua New Guinea in the semi-finals of Oceania qualifying this evening.
With two places at the World Cup on offer to the Oceania region for the first ever time, both finalists of the OFC U-17 Championship were set to qualify for the event and Danny Hay’s New Zealand side has been joined by New Caledonia, who earned a 3-2 win over Solomon Islands in the other semi-final.
The Kiwis had to wait until almost the last moment possible to make sure of both their World Cup spot and a shot at the Oceania title, leaving it until deep into stoppage time to finally see off a determined showing from Papua New Guinea.
With the final whistle about to blow and a penalty shootout looming, substitute Oliver Whyte made a hero of himself when receiving the ball in the penalty area and placing it home to spark scenes of unbridled joy among anyone with a Kiwi connection at the Stade Mahina in Tahiti.
That winner made the final score 2-1 after New Zealand had taken an early lead in just the third minute before Papua New Guinea hit back just past the half hour and – with no extra time in the offing in these matches – appeared to have done enough to take the game to spot kicks before Whyte’s late intervention.
Grabbing the initiative early in proceedings is becoming a habit for this New Zealand side, who also did so in all three of their group matches – wins over Samoa, Solomon Islands and Fiji. The Papua New Guineans therefore must have known what was coming in the opening exchanges but gave the defending champions a helping hand anyway when Aben Pukue tried to clear a cross but succeeded only in forcing the ball into his own net.
They did manage to score at the correct end soon after the mid-half water break though, Barthy Kerobin notching the equaliser with a deflected volley to keep his side’s hopes of reaching India alive.
Brisbane Roar midfielder Oliver Duncan had again taken the captain’s armband for New Zealand but was replaced by the young man he had assumed it from for the previous match, Max Mata, just past the hour after going down injured in the Papua New Guinea box.
It looked like he would have to watch from the sidelines as the match went to penalties but Whyte had other ideas, scoring a goal that will stay with him for the rest of his career just a few moments after coming on as an 89th-minute substitute for Kingsley Sinclair.
And there was still time for a bit more late drama as Kimson Kapai received his marching orders for Papua New Guinea with the last action of the match after picking up his second yellow card.
Coach Hay was delighted to have come out on the right side of such a close content but was not surprised at how tricky Papua New Guinea made the task for his players.
“It was a really, really difficult encounter, which we knew it was going to be,” Hay said.
“We had chances to put it away a lot earlier in the second half but their goalkeeper pulled out some incredible saves. You have to take your hat off to Papua New Guinea, they really fought well and showed a lot of pride and spirit in playing for their country,” he added.
“The number one goal was qualifying for the World Cup but we now also have a final to play so that’s going to be straight into the boys’ minds as well. It wasn’t a vintage performance but it’s very difficult out here in this humidity and heat so we’re very pleased we showed so much fight and character to see it through.”
New Zealand will now take on New Caledonia in the final of the OFC U-17 Championship on Saturday 25 February from 6pm (NZT) at Stade Pater in Tahiti for the right to be crowned Oceania champions.
New Zealand 2 (Own goal 3’, Oliver Whyte 90’ + 3’)
Papua New Guinea 1 (Barthy Kerobin 34’)
New Zealand: 12. Zac Jones (GK), 2. Jordan Spain, 3. Josh Rogerson, 4. Liberato Cacace, 5. Jake Williams, 7. Elijah Just, 8. Oliver Duncan (c) (9. Max Mata 68’), 10. Willem Ebbinge (yellow card 7’) (6. Leon Van Den Hoven 46’), 13. Matthew Jones, 14. Kingsley Sinclair (16. Oliver Whyte 89’), 18. Charles Spragg
Substitutes not used: 1. Dylan Bennett (GK), 11. Matthew Conroy, 15. Ben Deeley, 17. Matthew Palmer
Coach: Danny Hay
New Zealand will approach the semi-finals of the OFC U-17 Championship in a confident manner after maintaining their perfect Group B record with a 5-0 disposal of Fiji this evening at Stade Pater in Papeete, Tahiti.
The comprehensive victory followed hot on the heels of an 11-0 triumph against Samoa and a far tenser 2-1 success over Solomon Islands, meaning Danny Hay’s side has now impressively scored 18 goals and conceded just one on their way to topping the pool.
Their place in the final four was already secured going into this evening’s encounter but there was a chance the Kiwis would not top the group while Fiji were in desperate need of at least a point to keep their hopes of making the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India alive.
In the hot and humid Tahitian conditions, Hay continued to make full use of the options at his disposal as Elijah Just, Oliver Duncan, Willem Ebbinge, Matthew Jones and Ben Deeley all came into the starting line-up at the expense of Jordan Spain, Leon Van Den Hoven, Matthew Conroy, Kingsley Sinclair and Max Mata. The latter had captained the side in both of those earlier victories and the armband now went to Brisbane Roar midfielder Duncan, the only overseas-based player in the squad.
The new skipper did not have to wait long for his side to go ahead, New Zealand striking early for the third game running in the 12th minute when Jones met a corner at the near post and headed it past goalkeeper Mohammed Alam. Fiji held the Kiwis off well and at times looked like they might pull themselves back into the match but couldn’t find the finishing touch they were after.
Their task was made harder by Just when he profited from messy play in the Fijian box to poke the ball home and double the advantage in the 41st minute. New Zealand were kept at bay for the majority of the second period but Fiji’s effort fell apart just after the mid-half water break.
Mata had risen off the bench at half-time and made an impact soon after the re-start in the 76th minute by heading in a Jake Williams cross. Fiji made it through to 90 minutes without conceding again but New Zealand then scored twice in additional time.
Jones headed home his second of the match from a corner before substitute goalkeeper Asaeli Batikasa suffered the double blow of conceding a penalty and being sent off, allowing Spragg to step up and slot his fifth goal of the campaign from the spot.
Coach Hay was pleased to get through the group with an unblemished record and a full complement of points.
“I think we needed to bounce back after the way we played against Solomon Islands because there were a few aspects we weren’t that pleased with,” he said.
“It was a good, professional performance – I think that is the way to describe it,” he added.
“We’re certainly not getting carried away with ourselves, we have a really difficult game against Papua New Guinea coming up so we’re just pleased to get through unscathed and with a few goals to give the boys a bit of confidence.”
New Zealand will now face Papua New Guinea in the semi-finals of the OFC U-17 Championship on Wednesday 22 February at 6pm (NZT) at Stade Mahina. With two FIFA U-17 World Cup places on offer to the Oceania region for the first time, the winners of each semi-final will both earn a ticket to India.
New Zealand 5 (Matthew Jones 12’, 90’ + 1’, Elijah Just 41’, Max Mata 76’, Charles Spragg pen 90’ + 4’)
New Zealand: 12. Zac Jones (GK), 3. Josh Rogerson, 4. Liberato Cacace, 5. Jake Williams, 7. Elijah Just (18. Charles Spragg 81’), 8. Oliver Duncan (c), 10. Willem Ebbinge (yellow card 71’), 13. Matthew Jones, 15. Ben Deeley, 16. Oliver Whyte (14. Kingsley Sinclair 70’), 17. Matthew Palmer (9. Max Mata 46’)
Substitutes not used: 1. Dylan Bennett (GK), 2. Jordan Spain, 6. Leon Van Den Hoven, 11. Matthew Conroy
Coach: Danny Hay
New Zealand’s bid to qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup is very much on track after Danny Hay’s side secured a tense 2-1 win over Solomon Islands in their second match of Oceania qualifying this afternoon at Stade Pater in Papeete, Tahiti.
After beginning their campaign in ideal fashion with an outstanding display of clinical finishing in the 11-0 win over Samoa, Hay knew his side would be in for a far sterner examination of their abilities against the skilful Solomon Islanders. Showing faith in the depth of talent at his disposal, the former All White – who is joined on the coaching staff by fellow ex-international skippers Chris Zorocich and Jason Batty – made several changes to the starting line-up as goalkeeper Zac Jones, Leon van den Hoven, Matthew Conroy and Oliver Whyte were all brought in.
Hay’s expectations of a tough match eventually came to fruition but not before New Zealand had begun just as they had left off against Samoa with an early goal. Six different scorers had found the net on Monday – including a pair of hat-tricks to Charles Spragg and Matthew Palmer – and there was another name on the scoresheet today as an unmarked Jake Williams met a long throw at the back post to fire home in just the third minute.
Any hopes the Kiwis had of a comfortable afternoon were soon dispelled though as the Solomon Islands – who were seeking their first victory of the competition after being held 1-1 by Fiji in their opening match – proved a tough nut to crack for the remainder of the half.
And when another goal did arrive just after the break, it went the way of the Melanesians, Junior Kaoni following up on a miscued clearance from the New Zealand defence to fire past goalkeeper Zac Jones.
With the result now hanging on a knife edge, the intensity of proceedings lifted and New Zealand nearly took the lead again when Liberato Cacace burst down the line and swung in a perfect ball to captain Max Mata, who hit it first time and drew a full-stretch save from the foot of Solomon goalkeeper Joel Nanago.
As New Zealand continued to search for the winner, previous hat-trick hero Spragg came on for Conroy and it proved to be an inspired substitution as the striker was able to find that all-important goal with just six minutes remaining.
Again it was the boot of Mata that proved threatening, the skipper leading by example to crash an effort against the cross bar before Spragg followed up to tuck in New Zealand’s second and secure successive Group B wins for the tournament’s defending champions.
“It was really difficult and I thought the Solomon Islands were outstanding,” a relieved Hay admitted.
“Potentially, us scoring as early as we did was the worst thing that could have happened to us – it was almost like our boys thought it was going to be a repeat of Samoa. So that’s a big wake-up call for us as to the quality of opposition teams and individual players that we’re going to play against. Hopefully, they’ll learn from that and I’ve got no doubts that they will.”
Hay had plenty of admiration for a Solomon Islands outfit whose quality was clearly a step up from that encountered in the huge Samoa victory.
“I’ve played against Solomon Islands sides a lot and have been trying to tell the players how technically gifted they are and how you can’t dive in around the box. I think we dodged a bullet really because they showed a lot of skill and composure on the ball,” he said.
“But you’ve got to say our boys showed a huge amount of character to dig in there and win the game. Everyone in the camp is now going to have to take a good, long look and see how we can try to make sure the performance is better leading into that next match.”
New Zealand will play their third and final Group B match of the OFC U-17 Championship on Sunday 19 February at 6pm (NZT).
New Zealand 2 (Jake Williams 3’, Charles Spragg 84’)
Solomon Islands 1 (Junior Kaoni 47’)
New Zealand: 12. Zac Jones (GK), 2. Jordan Spain, 3. Josh Rogerson, 4. Liberato Cacace, 5. Jake Williams, 6. Leon van den Hoven (8. Oliver Duncan 33’), 9. Max Mata (c), 11. Matthew Conroy (yellow card 66’) (Charles Spragg 68’), 14. Kingsley Sinclair, 16. Oliver Whyte (7. Elijah Just 46’), 17. Matthew Palmer
Substitutes not used: 1. Dylan Bennett (GK), 10. Willem Ebbinge, 13. Matthew Jones, 15. Ben Deeley
Coach: Danny Hay
The Danny Hay-coached New Zealand U-17 side has kicked off its bid to qualify for the World Cup in ideal fashion with a comprehensive 11-0 victory over a hard-working Samoa outfit in stifling heat at Stade Pater in Papeete, Tahiti this afternoon.
Despite the wide winning margin, the Kiwis did not have things all their own way in their opening Group B match of the OFC U-17 Championship with Samoa enjoying a particularly good spell at the start of the second period before the score blew out in the closing stages.
“We’re obviously pleased that we got the result and the three points,” Hay said. “That was the most important thing and the performance at times was really good.”
Much of the damage was done by sharp-shooting duo Charles Spragg and Matthew Palmer, who both scored hat-tricks, while Willem Ebbinge struck a brace and Kingsley Sinclair, Oliver Whyte and captain Max Mata also got on the scoresheet.
The temperature at pitch level was so hot that a drinks break had to be taken midway through each half and Hay felt those conditions combined with the never-say-die attitude of Samoa to give his charges a challenging afternoon.
“It was tough for the boys, it was pretty warm there throughout the middle of the game,” he said.
“But, in general, I thought both teams played the game in really good spirit and I thought Samoa at the beginning of the second half were outstanding. They worked really hard so a lot of credit has to go to them because they made it difficult for our boys – the scoreline just blew out towards the end.”
New Zealand got off to the perfect start in just the fifth minute when Ebbinge put the tournament’s defending champions in front from an indirect free kick and the midfielder had his second just a few moments later after following up an attempted clearance. A third goal arrived on 20 minutes when a Palmer cross was sweetly finished by Spragg and another came within seconds when Sinclair sent a low drive in at the back post.
At 4-0 up with only a quarter of the game gone, Hay’s side was threatening to run riot but Samoa offered more resilience from that point on and it took until just before the break for New Zealand to hit again, Spragg helping himself to a second with another excellent finish.
Samoa refused to roll over in the second half and kept New Zealand scoreless until there were just over 20 minutes remaining, at which stage the floodgates opened. Palmer scored twice in quick succession – one a looping header and the other a low strike – before the dying moments proved really damaging for Samoa. Substitute Whyte cut in and found the net with a superb solo effort in the 86th minute while skipper Mata joined the fun two minutes later and Palmer and Spragg both completed their hat-tricks in stoppage time.
“I’m pleased but it’s just a start. We set our standards very high so hopefully we’re going to build into the tournament and get better and better as it goes along,” Hay said.
“We know there’s going to be a lot of difficult games coming up and some very good teams that we’re going to have to face.”
New Zealand will be in action again at the OFC U-17 Championship when they take on Solomon Islands on Thursday 16 February at 3pm (NZT).
New Zealand 11 (Willem Ebbinge 5’, 10’, Charles Spragg 20’, 40’, 90’ + 4’, Kingsley Sinclair 21’, Matthew Palmer 67’, 70’, 90’ + 3’, Oliver Whyte 86’, Max Mata 88’)
New Zealand: 1. Dylan Bennett (GK), 2. Jordan Spain (yellow card 64’), 3. Josh Rogerson, 4. Liberato Cacace, 5. Jake Williams (Ben Deeley 46’), 8. Oliver Duncan (Leon Van Den Hoven 46’), 9. Max Mata (c), 10. Willem Ebbinge, 14. Kingsley Sinclair (Oliver Whyte 78’), 17. Matthew Palmer, 18. Charles Spragg
Substitutes not used: Zac Jones (GK), Elijah Just, Matthew Conroy, Matthew Jones
Coach: Danny Hay
Football Ferns coach Tony Readings has named an exciting squad to contest the Cyprus Cup in March as the team rebuilds towards the 2019 FIFA World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Readings has named a team with plenty of experience – five players have more than 100 internationals for New Zealand in captain Abby Erceg, Amber Hearn, Ria Percival, Ali Riley and Kirsty Yallop – alongside three exciting young players who are new to international football.
Goalkeeper Anna Leat and midfielder Malia Steinmetz, who were standouts at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, get their first call up to the national team alongside forward Martine Puketapu and Paige Satchell who were prominent in the FIFA U-20 World Cup last year. Satchell will look to build on her debut appearance for New Zealand from last year.
Readings is excited to see what his World No 19 team is capable of when they face Scotland (World No 21), Austria (No 24) and Korea Republic (No 18) at the annual tournament.
“It will be great to have the whole group back together, we haven’t had that since the Rio Olympics, so we are looking forward to that energy that this team gets when they reassemble,” said Readings.
Vice-captain Katie Duncan, who has played 119 internationals for New Zealand, was not available for selection.
Readings, who is building for his fourth World Cup and Olympic Games, said the goal now is to build towards 2019 and 2020.
“Every time we represent New Zealand we want to win football matches, but the main focus for us has to be building towards those tournaments. So the goal is building while winning at the same time.”
Readings said Leat is a player they have been aware of for some time and said she showed great composure when she started for NZA in their opening 2-0 win over Thailand at Mt Smart Stadium.
“She has been training as part of this group for the last few years and was very impressive at the U-17 World Cup and again against Thailand,” he said. “She is definitely an exciting prospect.”
Readings said Steinmetz impressed more recently at the home training camps and against Thailand and Puketapu gets her chance to show what she can do in front of goal.
“Malia has shown a real positivity in her play which is something that we need to bring more to our game. For Martine up front, it is no secret that we need to score more goals to be more successful. She had a good U-20s World Cup and we want her to carry that form on.”
Readings is calling for Satchell, who was a travelling reserve for the Ferns to the Rio Olympics, to continue her fine form from the Thailand series where she scored a goal and set up another two in the second come-from-behind win.
“Paige is a really exciting prospect and we are looking forward to seeing her develop further in this environment. We have some experience, established players and it has been good to add in some younger, emerging players so it is a good place to be in. The challenge for the new players is to come in and make this group stronger.”
Readings expected a different challenge from each of the three nations they will face in Cyprus.
“Scotland will be strong, they have just qualified for their first Euros, and they will be looking to peak for that,” he said. “Austria are an emerging team and have some key players that we need to nullify. Korea Republic we have played a few times. We know they are going to be tough. We know that they are technically very gifted players and they are going to cause us problems. It will be great for the younger players to see these different styles and have to adapt.”
Cyprus Cup – Football Ferns fixtures
1 March v Scotland
3 March v Austria
6 March v Korea Republic
Football Ferns squad to contest the Cyprus Cup (club), caps and goals
Anna Leat (East Coast Bays) 0, 0
Erin Nayler (Grenoble) 44, 0
CJ Bott (Forrest Hill Milford United) 3, 0
Abby Erceg © (North Carolina Courage) 130, 6
Anna Green (Reading) 61, 7
Meikayla Moore (Cashmere Technical) 16, 0
Ria Percival (FC Basel) 120, 11
Ali Riley (FC Rosengard) 105, 1
Rebekah Stott (Melbourne City) 53, 4
Katie Bowen (FC Kansas City) 41, 1
Daisy Cleverley (Berkeley University) 3, 2
Betsy Hassett (Ajax) 95, 8
Annalie Longo (Cashmere Technical) 95, 9
Malia Steinmetz (Forrest Hill Milford United) 0, 0
Kirsty Yallop (Melbourne Victory) 101, 12
Amber Hearn (USV Jena) 116, 52
Jasmine Pereira (Three Kings United) 21, 0
Aimee Phillips (Eastern Suburbs) 3, 1
Martine Puketapu (Colorado University) 0, 0
Paige Satchell (Three Kings United) 1, 0
Rosie White (Boston Breakers) 84, 14
Hannah Wilkinson (Tennessee University) 78, 24
The players charged with reaching the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India have been revealed after the naming of the New Zealand squad to compete in this month’s Oceania qualifiers in Tahiti.
The OFC U-17 Championship will be held from February 11 to 24 and New Zealand have been drawn in Group B, in which they will meet Samoa, Solomon Islands and Fiji at Stade Pater in Pirae. The semi-finals and final will also take place at the same venue with a place at India 2017 in October on offer for the victors.
After months of talent identification and sessions with a wider training group, coach Danny Hay has now settled on the 18 young men he hopes will take New Zealand there and is excited about the potential of the squad.
“It’s hard to know until we actually get put under the pump over in the qualifiers but, in terms of the raw talent we’ve got, I think it’s very good,” he says.
“One thing we’ve started to improve on is developing very good technical players and we’ve got a lot of quality going forward. That’s promising because if you’d said that a few years ago people probably wouldn’t have believed you. I think it’s a sign of the changing nature of the game in this country.”
The best-represented clubs in the squad are the Wellington Phoenix Academy and Onehunga Sports, who provide five and four players respectively, while only one player is based overseas in the form of Brisbane Roar midfielder Oliver Duncan.
“Ollie’s name got thrown at us by one of our contacts over in Australia and we’re really pleased that we brought him in. He’s an outstanding young footballer and is a name I think we’re going to hear a fair bit of in the future,” Hay says.
New Zealand go into the qualifying tournament as defending champions but only need to look back as recently as the previous event two years ago – in which the Kiwis drew with Tahiti in the final before triumphing on penalties – to see that they will not have things all their own way.
“It’s always going to be very difficult for us going over to the islands, you’ve got very difficult conditions with the heat and humidity so that’s just something we’re going to have to deal with. There can’t be any excuses around that because we’re fully aware of what we’re going into,” Hay says.
“And the reality is that the other island nations are very good these days – they’ve got really good programmes in place and a lot of their players are working full-time together so they’re going to be a real challenge. We’re certainly not going there underestimating any of our opponents.”
The New Zealand players will not have to look far for ideal role models as Hay is joined on the coaching staff by assistant Chris Zoricich and goalkeeper coach Jason Batty, who also serves as Football Development Manager for the Auckland Football Federation. All three are ex-All Whites captains and form a trio packed full of experience and footballing nous.
They will be looking to pass on as much of that knowledge as possible and Hay says player development will be just as important as lifting the trophy and booking a spot in India.
“The nice thing we’ve seen in recent years, particularly since Anthony Hudson came in, is that there’s a real alignment between what the All Whites and the age-group sides are doing. These young players have a huge opportunity, not only to win a tournament and qualify for the World Cup, but also to put themselves in the picture for higher honours, whether that be in the U-20s or even beyond,” he says.
“My job as a coach is to win the tournament because we’re all about winning but it’s also about giving these boys an understanding of the style of play and the roles and responsibilities within that in terms of the way New Zealand teams are playing going forward.”
New Zealand squad for OFC U-17 Championship
Dylan BENNETT (Onehunga Sports)
Zac JONES (Wellington Olympic)
Liberato CACACE (Wellington Phoenix Academy)
Ben DEELEY (Auckland Grammar School)
Matthew JONES (Canterbury United)
Josh ROGERSON (Ole Academy)
Jake WILLIAMS (Wellington Phoenix Academy)
Oliver DUNCAN (Brisbane Roar, AUS)
Willem EBBINGE (Wellington Phoenix Academy)
Elijah JUST (Ole Academy)
Kingsley SINCLAIR (Onehunga Sports)
Leon VAN DEN HOVEN (Onehunga Sports)
Oliver WHYTE (Wellington Phoenix Academy)
Matthew CONROY (Wellington Phoenix Academy)
Max MATA (Onehunga Sports)
Matthew PALMER (Fencibles United)
Jordan SPAIN (Canterbury United)
Charles SPRAGG (Western Springs)
Head Coach: Danny HAY
Assistant Coach: Chris ZORICICH
Goalkeeper Coach: Jason BATTY
Team Analyst: Kane WINTERSGILL
Team Manager: Simon HILTON
Physiotherapist: Luke BURGESS
Sport Scientist: Luke STANAWAY
Samoa vs New Zealand
Sunday 12 February, 4pm (3pm NZT)
New Zealand vs Solomon Islands
Wednesday 15 February, 4pm (3pm NZT)
New Zealand vs Fiji
Saturday 18 February, 7pm (6pm NZT)
Winner Group A vs Runner-up Group B
Tuesday 21 February, 4pm (3pm NZT)
Winner Group B vs Runner-up Runner-up Group A
Tuesday 21 February, 7pm (6pm NZT)
Winner Semi-Final 1 vs Winner Semi-Final 2
Friday 24 February, 7pm (6pm NZT)
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