It was a massive year for the "beautiful game" in New Zealand with the New Zealand U17 girls creating history by making the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup for the first time. There was a new National champion crowned in NZSS girls football and a familiar winner in the boys competition.
Four boys and four girls we have followed this year are below. Vote in our poll at the bottom for your favourite player.
Hannah Blake (Saint Kentigern College) - The College Sport Auckland athlete of the year helped her First XI win the Auckland Premiership title - St Kent’s outscoring all opponents 40-12 throughout the season. The Three Kings United Forward was also selected for the New Zealand U20’s who competed at the FIFA World Cup. Blake was a standout earning 233 minutes of playing time and scoring one of the goals of the tournament against the Dutch. Blake is a prolific goal scorer and proven leader.
Liberato Cacace (St Patrick’s College, Wellington) - On 2 February 2018, Cacace became the youngest player to appear for the Wellington Phoenix in the A-League, coming on as a substitute in a 4–0 defeat against Sydney FC. Cacace quickly established himself as a regular, appearing in seven games in the 2017-18 season and beginning the 2018-19 season in the starting line-up. Additionally Cacace was the first All White born in the 2000’s. The 17-year old was selected for the Intercontinental Cup where he started in wins against Chinese Taipei (1-0) and India (2-1) - the later nation ranked 23 places above New Zealand in the FIFA world rankings. On November 4, Cacace was announced as the College Sport Wellington Sportsman of the year.
Thomas Golding (Mount Albert Grammar School) - The attacking midfielder had a great Nationals taking MAGS all the way to final, scoring a double in the semi-final win over Auckland champions Saint Kentigern College. Despite falling short in the final Golding was snapped up by Waitakere United coach Martin Rodwell for the National Youth League. Golding has been left out of the Auckland City team which he was a member of in 2017.
Ryan Kelly (Hutt Valley High School) - Another Wellington based player who had a great year, beginning with selection in the New Zealand U19 Secondary Schools team for their tour to the United States. Kelly then played for Hutt Valley High School bringing up his 50th cap for the school while also starting in the Men’s Central League for Lower Hutt. In October, Kelly was a member of the Lower Hutt U19 team that won the Bob Bamford National Memorial Tournament. His form in that tourney earned selection for the Team Wellington Youth squad where he has shined, scoring in all but one game this year.
Anna Leat (Rangitoto College) - The goalkeeper who debuted for the Football Ferns in 2017 showed again she belongs on the world stage with a memorable display at the FIFA U17 World Championships. After keeping a clean sheet to help New Zealand to victory over Finland in pool play, Leat then saved two penalties and kicked the winning penalty in the dramatic win over Japan in the quarter-finals. Leat is a member of the New Zealand high performance set up.
Aneka Mittendorff (Westlake Girls’ High School) - The Westlake Girls’ High School student is the captain of the Young Football Ferns who created history at the FIFA U17 World Cup by reaching the semi-finals for the first time. New Zealand, who’d previously never gone beyond the group stage, rallied from behind to topple Uruguay and then stunned 2016 runners up Japan on penalties in the quarter final. Mittendorff plays in the midfield where her work ethic and superior skill has driven those around her to unimaginable heights.
Rose Morton (Northcote College) - The Hawke’s Bay Secondary Schools Sportswoman of the Year actually attends high school in Auckland where she is one of 28 players involved in the Football Ferns Development Program who compete in the Northern Football Federation 17th grade boys conference. The central midfielder is the first Hawke's Bay footballer to play in two world championships in the same year, representing New Zealand in both the FIFA Under-17 and 20 tournaments. Rose’s older sister Sarah Morton debuted for the Football Ferns this year.
Declan Viljoen (Sacred Heart College) - The Year 11 goalkeeper produced one of the great displays by a relative rookie at the Nationals when he only conceded one goal in seven game in Sacred Heart’s triumph. In the semi-final, Sacred Heart faced elimination with the last kick of the game against St Pat’s Town when Town stepped forward to take a penalty. However Viljoen thwarted the shot and then made an additional three saves in the penalty shoot out to propel Sacred Heart in the final where he didn’t concede. Kingsley Sinclair was player of the year.
The Champion of Champion series is not intended to be a definitive list of the ‘best’ athletes in each code, rather it celebrates many of the leading athletes and teams in each that College Sport Media has followed this year. Preference has gone to those individuals/teams that CSM has interviewed and profiled in 2018. Got a story? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
A historic first-ever place in a final is now off the cards for New Zealand but they still have much to play for after a 2-0 loss to Spain in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay. Coach Leon Birnie and his ground-breaking side will now look to become the first national team from their country to earn a medal when they take part in the play-off for third on Sunday morning (NZT).
Despite their semi-final defeat, New Zealand will take plenty of confidence into that encounter after again proving they belong at the very highest level with a strong showing at a rain-soaked Estadio Charrúa in Montevideo this morning (NZT).
“We knew today was going to be challenging but, in that first half especially, we really took it to them,” Birnie said.
“There were long periods of that game where we had them camped in their half and we hit the crossbar. But we then switched off for their first goal and that was an absolute killer. They then showed their class with a great strike in the second half and it was always going to be difficult to come back from two-nil down,” he added.
“But I’m so proud of the players, they tried everything they could until that final whistle and it’s been a fantastic tournament – it’s an amazing moment for football in our country.”
With the exception of fielding a fresh-look side in their final group game against Ghana, Birnie has retained a very settled starting line-up throughout the tournament and again kept faith with the group of players who have made history for their country, making no changes from the quarter-final win over Japan.
There was no doubt they were coming up against one of the best sides in the world with Spain having won their European qualification and scoring 11 goals on their path to the semi-finals in Uruguay, conceding just two.
But New Zealand had already beaten some top-class opponents on their own remarkable march to the final four so were not going to be overawed by the classy Spanish and showed they were more than capable of causing another upset in a tight first half.
As expected due to their possession-based style, Spain enjoyed much of the ball but New Zealand pressed forward at every opportunity and actually had the better of the sights on goal. They enjoyed a good spell of pressure around the 15-minute mark before Kelli Brown tried her luck from distance but was a long way out and her looping effort dropped just wide of the top corner.
Despite all their possession, Spain were struggling to create anything going forward, thanks largely to several vital interventions from New Zealand’s inspirational captain Aneka Mittendorff. When the next good chance did arrive, it again went the way of the Oceania champions in the 26th minute, Gabi Rennie being played in down the right by Amelia Abbott but her shot from a tight angle couldn’t beat Spain goalkeeper Catalina Coll at her near post.
Just a few minutes later, New Zealand went even closer to opening the scoring when Coll got the faintest of touches to a perfectly-placed strike from Macey Fraser and it bounced agonisingly off the crossbar. It wasn’t until the 34th minute that Spain came anywhere near to a goal themselves, captain Clàudia Pina glancing an effort off the base of the upright.
But the same player would soon be responsible for giving them the lead when a cross broke to her in the box and she smashed it past Leat to put Spain in front at the break.
The underdogs needed to begin the second half well to get back into the game but the highly-accomplished Spaniards weren’t about to let a place in the final slip through their grasp and extended their lead soon after the restart in stunning fashion. A loose ball dropped to Irene López outside the box and she unleashed a unstoppable volley that fizzed in off the inside of the post for one of the goals of the tournament.
If any were needed, it was a reminder of the sort of quality the Kiwis were up against and they couldn’t produce a similar moment of their own as they looked to fight back from two down.
Substitute Maya Hahn tried to get her country back into the game with a shot from distance on the hour but it was an ambitious effort and went wide. Anna Leat had been forced to make a good save at her near post earlier but had little else to do as Spain did not seriously threaten to add to their lead.
New Zealand kept pressing to keep their hopes alive and their best moment of the half arrived when a pair of substitutes combined to good effect in the 83rd minute. Britney Cunningham-Lee picked out Ayla Pratt with a perfect through ball but Coll did well to come out and block the effort of Pratt at close range.
The industrious Grace Wisnewski then caught a defender in possession and fired off a shot under pressure but Coll was able to make a comfortable save as Spain closed the game out.
New Zealand will now take on either Mexico or Canada in the play-off for third at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup on Sunday morning (NZT).
“The players will be disappointed tonight but we’ll refocus and if we can win that play-off game then that will be another special moment,” Birnie said.
New Zealand 0
Spain 2 (Clàudia Pina 39’, Irene López 48’)
New Zealand: 1. Anna Leat (GK), 2. Mackenzie Barry, 3. Hannah Mackay-Wright, 4. Aneka Mittendorff, 5. Marisa Van Der Meer, 6. Macey Fraser (16. Maya Hahn 53’), 7. Gabi Rennie, 8. Amelia Abbott, 9. Maggie Jenkins (17. Ayla Pratt 76’), 10. Grace Wisnewski, 11. Kelli Brown (13. Britney Cunningham-Lee 76’)
Substitutes not used: 12. Jayda Stewart, 14. Laney Strachan, 15. Genevieve Ryan, 18. Rose Luxton, 19. Arabella Maynard, 20. Georgia Candy (GK), 21. Blair Currie (GK)
Coach: Leon Birnie
The New Zealand U-17 women’s team has shocked the footballing world by defeating Japan on penalties to make the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup – the first time a side from this country has ever made the final four of a FIFA event.
Having earlier become the first team from New Zealand to make the quarter-finals of a World Cup and breaking several other records in the process, coach Leon Birnie and his charges were very much already in unchartered territory as they took to the field at the Estadio Alberto Suppici in Uruguay this morning (NZT).
But they weren’t in any mood to bring their history-making exploits to an end and instead continued the fairy-tale by holding highly-fancied Japan to a 1-1 draw and then finishing the job with a dramatic 4-3 win in the subsequent penalty shoot-out.
Goalkeeper and vice-captain Anna Leat was the heroine, pulling off a fine save in additional time to keep the scores level before also keeping out Japan’s first spot kick. She then stepped up herself to rifle home the winning penalty and earn one of the most memorable results in New Zealand football history.
“What a performance – these girls have come over here and game after game just defied the odds,” Birnie said.
“We’d never got out of the group before and we created history by doing that. Then today is a special occasion – no New Zealand team has ever reached a semi-final and now we’ve done it. I’m so proud of the girls and it was an amazing performance,” he added.
“Credit to Japan, they’re a quality side so we’ve done so well to go out and compete with them and then for that last 30 minutes just to stay in there. And that was just pure grit and determination that we didn’t want to concede. Then to finish like that and actually get through was amazing.”
New Zealand went into the match as underdogs against a Japan side with a proud record in this tournament and who were yet to be defeated on their march to the quarter-finals.
But the Kiwis appeared to surprise their opponents in the opening stages with the quality of their play as they began to build the foundations of what would become a major upset. Japan tried to control the ball and implement their usual possession-based style but were clearly unsettled by New Zealand’s willingness to press forward as Birnie’s side took the game to their accomplished rivals.
New Zealand enjoyed a particularly strong spell of pressure after around 10 minutes, captain Aneka Mittendorff launching a string of trademark long throws into the box before Kelli Brown found the goalkeeper with a long-range shot from a tricky angle.
Japan did well to ride out that period but found themselves behind soon after as New Zealand’s hard work on the training ground paid off in stunning style. In a well-worked routine they had clearly spent hours perfecting, captain Aneka Mittendorff stepped over a low corner from Macey Fraser, allowing Amelia Abott to smash home a perfectly-struck shot from the edge of the area on 17 minutes.
With the prospect of an unprecedented semi-final berth now on the cards, New Zealand were in dreamland and it nearly got even better in the 25th minute, Maggie Jenkins pouncing on a loose ball in the Japan box and firing off a shot that agonisingly clipped the top of the crossbar.
But they were brought back down to earth in unfortunate fashion just past the half-hour mark, Leat making a great save before Hannah Mackay-Wright did well to block the follow up but then stumbled and inadvertently forced the ball into her own net.
Japan enjoyed most of the ball in the second half but both sides found clear-cut opportunities hard to come by, only Macey Fraser, Gabi Rennie and Kelli Brown having any sight of goal with half chances for New Zealand.
They were forced to defend for most of the latter stages as Japan desperately searched for a winner but, with the majority of the starting line-up having been rested for their final group game, New Zealand’s legs were fairly fresh and they dug deep to take the game to penalties.
Leat gave New Zealand the advantage with an outstanding save low to her right before Maya Hahn, Grace Wisnewski and Brown were all successful with their spot kicks. Japan had scuffed another of their attempts wide so Jayda Stewart had the chance to win it for New Zealand but skied her effort over the bar.
It wasn’t to prove costly though as Leat took responsibility for the final penalty and showed composure well beyond her tender years to convert it with ease and create history for her country.
New Zealand will now take on Spain in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup on Thursday morning from 8am, live on SKY Sport.
Japan 1 (Own goal 31’)
New Zealand 1 (Amelia Abbott 17’)
New Zealand win 4-3 on penalties
New Zealand: 1. Anna Leat (GK), 2. Mackenzie Barry, 3. Hannah MacKay-Wright, 4. Aneka Mittendorff (c), 5. Marisa Van Der Meer, 6. Macey Fraser (16. Maya Hahn 51’), 7. Gabi Rennie (13. Britney Cunningham-Lee 83’), 8. Amelia Abbott, 9. Maggie Jenkins (12. Jayda Stewart 90’), 10. Grace Wisnewski, 11. Kelli Brown
Cautions: Aneka Mittendorff 34’
Substitutes not used: 14. Laney Strachan, 15. Genevieve Ryan, 17. Ayla Pratt, 18. Rose Luxton, 19. Arabella Maynard, 20. Georgia Candy (GK), 21. Blair Currie (GK)
Coach: Leon Birnie
A New Zealand team has qualified for the knockout stages of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup for the first ever time after securing an impressive 2-1 victory over hosts Uruguay in Montevideo on Saturday.
While a historic first in this tournament, it’s the eighth time overall that New Zealand have progressed past pool play at a FIFA event and the first time it has been done with a game in hand.
“It’s an amazing moment,” said coach Leon Birnie.
“It’s historic for us because we’d never got out of the pool play and I’m just so proud of the girls. There’s so many people that have put it in for this result – from the staff to the players, all the parents that are over here supporting and everyone back in New Zealand that’s worked with these players along their journey. All of us together have helped them get to this moment.”
Heading to South America, New Zealand had only ever won two matches at this tournament but that tally has now been doubled after Birnie led his charges to their second successive Group A victory, following on from a 1-0 triumph over Finland just a few days earlier.
But it didn’t look like that would be the case in the early stages of an even first half, Uruguay taking the lead in just the eighth minute. After being outclassed 5-0 by Ghana on their own soil in their opening match, Uruguay needed a positive result against the Kiwis and got just the start they were looking for.
Esperanza Pizarro hit the crossbar with a well-struck shot from outside the box and Belén Aquino was on hand to tuck the rebound past goalkeeper Anna Leat, who was beaten for the first time at this tournament.
The possession stakes were evenly shared in an entertaining first half but New Zealand had the better of the chances as they looked to draw level. Their clearest sight of goal early on arrived on 12 minutes when the ball dropped to captain Aneka Mittendorff in the box and she brought it down well but dragged her effort across the face.
Seconds later, Grace Wisnewki tried her luck from a long way out and hit her effort well but it went straight into the grateful arms of Uruguay goalkeeper Agustina Caraballo.
The equaliser New Zealand’s endeavour deserved duly arrived mid-way through the half though as a looped cross from Gabi Rennie broke for Maggie Jenkins and she prodded against the post but Grace Wisnewski showed good awareness to pounce on the loose ball and put it away.
The second goal arrived in similar circumstances ten minutes later, Jenkins again hitting the woodwork after being picked out by a Macey Fraser free kick and the alert Kelli Brown following up to notch her second strike of the tournament.
There were fewer chances in a tight second half as Uruguay failed to find a way past another outstanding defensive effort from New Zealand, again led by skipper Mittendorff while Leat showed flawless handling in goal.
What few opportunities there were continued to fall New Zealand’s way but most of them were of the half-chance variety as Brown, Fraser and substitute Rose Luxton all had attempts from outside the area that either went wide or were comfortably saved.
Overall, New Zealand out-shot the hosts by 14 attempts to seven as they closed out the game to record their second successive win. Despite creating far more chances, Birnie felt the result may have been different on another day and paid tribute to the efforts of Uruguay.
“It was an absolute battle out there today and it could have gone either way if I’m honest,” he admitted.
“I’m just glad that we could keep working through it but credit to Uruguay, it’s a shame they haven’t progressed out of the group because it’s been a brilliant tournament. Everything we’ve experienced has been fantastic and I hope the rest of the tournament is a success.”
Having already secured their spot in the quarter-finals, New Zealand will now fight it out with Ghana, who also boast a perfect record, for the right to top the group on Wednesday morning (NZT).
Uruguay 1 (Belén Aquino 8’)
New Zealand 2 (Grace Wisnewski 26’, Kelli Brown 36’)
New Zealand: 1. Anna Leat (GK), 2. Mackenzie Barry, 3. Hannah MacKay-Wright, 4. Aneka Mittendorff (c), 5. Marisa Van Der Meer, 6. Macey Fraser (18. Rose Luxton 74’), 7. Gabi Rennie (17. Ayla Pratt 82’), 8. Amelia Abbott, 9. Maggie Jenkins (16. Maya Hahn 90+2’), 10. Grace Wisnewski, 11. Kelli Brown
Cautions: Hannah Mackay-Wright 34’, Macey Fraser 48’
Substitutes not used: 12. Jayda Stewart, 13. Britney Cunningham-Lee, 14. Laney Strachan, 15. Genevieve Ryan, 19. Arabella Maynard, 20. Georgia Candy (GK), 21. Blair Currie (GK)
Coach: Leon Birnie
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