A wider group of 32 players has been training in Auckland over the school holidays, as part of New Zealand’s preparations for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Brazil in October.
The New Zealand U-17 men’s team will first compete in the Panda Cup from 25-29 May in Chengdu.
The 20 players who helped qualify New Zealand at the OFC U-16 Championship last September were all involved in the training camp at QBE Stadium while coach Jose Figueira also took the opportunity to cast his eye over a wider pool of talent.
“It’s our first contact with the group this year so we wanted to make sure we kept the net cast wide,” he says of the sessions.
“In the U-17 age group, players are developing all the time. In the space of a few months since the qualifiers, there has been significant development across all aspects of them as players but also people. It’s important to keep a fresh eye and mind across the whole age group,” he adds.
“The camp was a real eye-opener for us and there’s certainly going to be some hard decisions made in terms of selections. But that’s great because it means football in New Zealand is in a really exciting spot.”
The Oceania champions are yet to find out who they will meet in Brazil but, whatever their identity, the opposition is sure to be of the highest quality.
“Some of the players we’re going to be playing against are already living the professional football life right across the world,” Figueira explains.
“For us, it’s about trying to bridge that gap in our preparations. While it will be a huge challenge, it’s one everyone is really excited about.”
A key part of the team’s build-up will be next month’s Panda Cup in China, in which New Zealand will take on the hosts, Korea Republic and Thailand.
Figueira says the benefits of featuring in the tournament are two-fold.
“Firstly, it will give us the chance to see these players under pressure on a big-stage environment against top-class players. We’re going to really see the boys under the microscope and find out if they can show their personalities and execute the way we want to play,” he says.
“Secondly, it’s an opportunity for both the players and staff to be away and go through our processes in terms of preparation, recovery and review and then backing it up for a second and third game. So it’s a perfect opportunity for us to replicate what would be a group stage at a World Cup.”
New Zealand U-17 men’s training squad
Alex Paulsen (Lower Hutt City)
Luca Taylor (Birkenhead United)
Woody Holmes (Brisbane Roar Academy, Australia)
Joseph Knowles (Bay Olympic)
Campbell Strong (Eastern Suburbs)
Finn O’Connor (Lower Hutt City)
Adam Hillis (Lower Hutt City)
Harry Bark (Lower Hutt City)
Robi Sabo (Western Suburbs)
Jackson Simpkin (Brisbane City, Australia)
Max Drake (Lower Hutt City)
Kris Naicker (Lower Hutt City)
Corban Piper (Birkenhead United)
Nick Milicich (Birkenhead United)
Nathan Lobo (Birkenhead United)
Sean Bright (Western Suburbs)
Ryan Verney (Onehunga Sports)
Marko Stamenic (Western Suburbs)
Hayden Aish (Western Springs)
Matthew Garbett (Western Suburbs)
Ben Old (Lower Hutt City)
Harry Freeman (Eastern Suburbs)
Josh Galletly (Melville United)
Vincent Best (Western Springs)
Brad Wilson (Western Springs)
Henry Hamilton (Lower Hutt City)
Oskar van Hattum (Lower Hutt City)
Joseph Lee (Lower Hutt City)
Keegan Jelacic (Queensland Lions, Australia)
Jesse Randall (North Wellington)
Blake Driehuis (Lower Hutt City)
Riley Bidois (Tauranga City United)
“It was unbelievable to have both our Senior and Junior teams in National Finals a few hours apart. To see the seniors straight away comfort the juniors after losing their penalty shootout meant we had the culture right within the college and that’s what helps bring success,” says St Thomas of Canterbury College’s Senior futsal team manager and outdoor football First XI co-coach Richard Washington.
The school only has three futsal teams, and last Friday two of them made the NZSS tournament finals. The juniors missed out 3-2 on penalties in their decider against St Pat’s Town and the seniors beat Scots College 3-1 and were crowned national champions.
The senior trophy is generally dominated by North Island schools, and the only other time it headed south previously was in 2016 when Kavanagh College won.
In 2017 St Thomas’s were sixth and last year they improved to fifth, so the school headed to Wellington over Summer Tournament Week hopeful of doing well with a settled team from 2018.
“This title was built from winning the Junior national final in 2016. So 2019 was a goal and meant to be a special year for the bulk of this group and it delivered,” says Washington.
'The senior final was played in front of a hostile Wellington crowd against a talented Scots College team. St Thomas's played with heart and passion, particularly after being reduced to three outfield players when New Zealand school player Tom Stewart received a second yellow card for two minutes. During his absence Scots couldn’t break through.
“St Thomas’s mantra (MANAWA) came to mind, and the commentators spoke about the team culture we had and this is something we pride our self on and fight tooth and nail for each other.”
The game ended 1-1. St Thomas’s only goal game from a stunning free kick from Aashish Rai. Luke White also had a big game, closing down several dangerous attacks from Scots College’s U17 Solomon Islands Internationals
The final went to penalties, where Lachie Doyle saved their second attempt. Seth Simpson and Mika Rabuka had already converted from the spot and Aashish Rai delivered the knockout blow, sending the away supporters in raptures and a senior National Secondary school title to St Thomas.
Of note, 2019 Captain Tom Downes missed the final due to receiving two yellows prior, so Canterbury U19 Futsal player who won nationals with Canterbury last year, Mika Rabuka, was captain for the final.
Earlier in the day, St Thomas’s juniors just missed out to St Pat’s Town in a similarly stirring final.
The juniors had built nicely throughout the tournament. Issac Topham scored 17 goals and just missed out on the Golden Boot by one and Aston Thackwell scored 15 goals. It was a special day for the Rabuka family as Api was playing for the juniors and Mika for the seniors.
The age old saying that you sometimes have to lose a final before you can win might be true for this team who are one to watch for the future in football and futsal.
Senior coach James Vallance says: "I really enjoyed the school futsal national league this year, it was a really well run tournament and there are some really good teams and coaches coming through which is fantastic to see. Long may it continue and i look forward to seeing what the future holds for the sport within the schools format"
“A Newly formed link between the Christchurch United Football Academy is giving our players the opportunity to experience an academy setting with state of the art facilities and coaching staff, “ explained Washington. “This link will help better prepare our players for top class football and futsal in the future.”
“Futsal is an extremely important part of the Overall Football landscape at the college where the bulk of our Junior and senior first X1s play, and we use this for our build-up for our outdoor season.
“ Its just the boys together and building an environment. We have an amazing facility to train at school and we bring in two specialist Futsal coaches, James and Shannen, who are part of the Canterbury Dragons Futsal men’s team and who have been with the school for four years and have done extremely well with these talented young men.”
The focus for St Thomas’s seniors now turns to football, where their Focus for the seniors now turns to the Football where they are looking to back up their local success last year in wining the Canterbury Premiership and hopefully qualify for the Premier tournament in Napier. Washington and Allen Coach the First XI while Blair Scadden coaches the Junior outdoor XI.
Senior squad at nationals and results:
Squad: Mika Rabuka, Lachie Doyle, Hunter Rowe, Tom Downes, Tom Stewart, Aashish Rai, Seth Simpson, John Oakman, Cullum Murdoch, Luke White, Cameron Brewitt. Coach. James Vallance. Managers Richard Washington and Jacob Allen
Win 4-1 vs St Patrick’s Silverstream
Win 8-0 vs St Peter’s Palmerston North
Win vs 6-2 Westlake Boys’ High School
Round of 8
Win vs Selwyn 3-1
Win vs Rongatai College 5-3
Win 3-1 vs Scots College
Junior squad at nationals and results:
Squad: Api Rabuka, Aston Thackwell, George Campbell (Captain), Issac Topham, Lewis Partridge, Alex Ballard, Jack Robinson, Jacob O’Connell, Diego Lavin, Angus Dempster. Coach Shannen Vailuu. Manager Blair Scadden
Win 5-2 vs St Patrick’s Silverstream
Win 4-2 vs Rongotai College
Win 4-1 vs Cashmere High School
Win 10-3 vs Nelson College
Win 11-3 vs Tauranga Boys’ College
Win 4-3 vs Hamilton Boys’ High School
Lost 3-2 on Penalties St Pat's Town
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