The New Zealand U-17 men’s team that takes part in the Panda Cup later this month will have a fresh look to it after the welcoming of several new players into the fold.
The core of the group that qualified their country for this year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup last September have kept their places but will be joined by five newcomers in Nicholas Milicich, Robert Sabo, Jackson Simpkin, Keegan Jelacic and Jesse Randall.
Coach Jose Figueira has deliberately kept an open mind as he looks to find a winning formula for the World Cup, which will be staged in the football-mad nation of Brazil in October.
That policy has unearthed the likes of Simpkin and Jelacic, who are both based in Australia, while their fellow newcomers have likewise caught the eye in recent months.
The three-match format of the Panda Cup serves to replicate the group stages of a World Cup and Figueira feels the experience will prove invaluable.
“First of all, it’s about whether the players can go out there and show their personality and the way we want to play against some top opposition,” he says.
“Secondly, it’s the mentality. It’s going to be big crowds, playing away from home and playing under pressure. We had that experience at the qualifiers of playing in front of 10,000 fans and we’ll hopefully get that again. We want to see which players come through with flying colours in that test and it should be exciting for us.”
New Zealand will take part in the Panda Cup at the Chengdu Shuangliu Sports Centre, Chengdu from 25 – 29 May.
New Zealand U-17 squad for Panda Cup
Alexander Paulsen (Capital Football, Lower Hutt City, Scots College)
Luca Taylor (Northern Football, Birkenhead United, Mt Albert Grammar School)
Max Drake (Capital Football, Lower Hutt City, Westlake Boys High School)
Adam Hillis (Capital Football, Lower Hutt City, Scots College)
Nathan Lobo (Northern Football, Birkenhead United, Liston College)
Nicholas Milicich (Northern Football, Birkenhead United, St Peter’s College)
Finn O’Connor (Capital Football, Lower Hutt City, Scots College)
Robert Sabo (Capital Football, Western Suburbs, Tawa College)
Jackson Simpkin (Brisbane City)
Sean Bright (Capital Football, Western Suburbs, Tawa College)
Henry Hamilton (Capital Football, Lower Hutt City, Wellington College)
Marko Stamenic (Capital Football, Western Suburbs, St Patrick’s College Silverstream)
Campbell Strong (Northern Football, Eastern Suburbs, Sacred Heart College)
Matthew Garbett (Capital Football, Western Suburbs, Wellington College)
Keegan Jelacic (Queensland Lions)
Jesse Randall (Capital Football, North Wellington, Rongotai College)
Oskar van Hattum (Capital Football, Lower Hutt City, NZ Institute of Sport)
Bradley Wilson (Northern Football, Western Springs, St Peter’s College)
Panda Cup schedule
China vs New Zealand, 7pm local time
New Zealand vs Korea Republic, 3pm local time
New Zealand vs Thailand, 3pm local time
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
The 2019 NZSS girls futsal titles have been annexed by Canterbury and Auckland schools.
Rangiora High School won the senior girls title, while Saint Kentigern College captured the junior girls division.
In the finals of their respective grades, St Kent’s eased to a 13-1 win over Wellington East Girls’ College, while Rangiora edged Hamilton’s Hillcrest High School 3-2 in a thriller.
St Kent’s were clearly the dominant side of the junior girls tournament, also beating Marlborough Girls’ College 17-0 in their semi-final and winning all their previous matches on Monday and Tuesday comfortably. MGC defeated Auckland Diocesan School for Girls 4-2 in the junior girls playoff for third and fourth.
Rangiora High School were deserved champions of the senior girls tournament, but not without playing three tough games on day two and drama in the closing stages of the final that almost went to a penalty shootout.
Rangiora had led 2-0 at halftime in the senior final, through goals to Abbey Neilson and Madi Silcock and then protected a 2-1 lead following a goal to Hillcrest’s Chloe Henderson right up to the final two minutes of play.
Sensing a tiring defence, Hillcrest dug deep for one last assault and it paid off when Henderson scored again to lock it up and the game was seemingly heading to a shootout.
But Rangiora were determined, and one last-gasp raid up field yielded the winning goal when Madi Silcock again found herself in space with the goal keeper to beat and she obliged to score the match-winner. Fulltime sounded and the green and golds erupted into celebration.
Overall the final had been a high quality match, with both sides creating several additional chances that went unrewarded. Hillcrest were particularly unfortunate, missing no fewer than four close shots on goal in the first half and another with their opening chance of the second half. Hillcrest’s goalie Libbie Gilard won the golden gloves award.
Rangiora’s captain Macey Fraser won both the golden boot award for scoring the most goals and the tournament MVP.
She was delighted for her team afterwards. “We are just to happy to win this title after missing out in recent years,” said Macy, “we have all been playing well together and came together these past two days.”
Macey praised the quality of the opposition.
Earlier in the day, Rangiora had defeated Wellington Girls’ College 5-1 in their quarter-final, in a closer match that the score suggested. Macey agreed: “That Wellington team played really good futsal, so it was a good game to prepare us for the next one.”
Rangiora then defeated Auckland’s Baradene College 7-3 in their semi-final, Macey Fraser knocking in two goals as they surged to a 4-0 lead late in the first term. Baradene snatched a goal back on halftime but the North Cantabrians kept themselves in front.
“We really worked together well in that semi-final. In the final, Hillcrest came out so well and played the best futsal I have ever seen at secondary school level, it was a tough one!”
“Chloe Henderson – what a footballer, she is amazing. She scored a banger at the end but luckily we scored one back and then it was fulltime.”
What about Madi Silcock, with two goals in the final including the winner? “She plays left back in football, and we are really of proud of her today.”
Beaten finalists Hillcrest, fought hard for their 2-1 semi-final win over Auckland’s King’s College, after scores had been locked up at 1-1 at the turnaround. Hillcrest had beaten Marian College 1-0 in their quarterfinal contest.
In the battle for the minor places to round out the top eight, Baradene defeated King’s College 3-0 in the playoff for 3rd and 4th, while the two Wellington schools, WEGC and WGC ended their tournament with a 1-1 draw and New Plymouth Girls’ High School overcame Marian College 1-0.
The NZSS junior and senior boys tournaments are played together at the same venue at the ASB Centre in Wellington Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Follow the NZSS Futsal Championships HERE
The Rongotai College Senior A Futsal team is a team that has always contended at the highest level, and are continuing to do so this year with having a truly exceptional season.
Their most recent success being crowned the 2019 College Sport Wellington Regional champions after beating defending 2018 NZSS Futsal champions, Wellington College.
This result was satisfying but they were quietly confident on winning as they were undefeated prior to the tournament. With a rather young squad, containing only six year 13s in a squad of 12 students, this title will only fuel them with confidence moving forward towards nationals.
Rongotai College has always been a rather successful school at both regional and national level, being the defending champions of the CSW Futsal Premier Division, and have previously made two national finals in 2015 and 2018. Having fallen short on both occasions, this is the year students and supporters believe they will be able to go one further.
Last year, Rongotai College was narrowly beaten by Wellington College in the NZSS final, after beating Hamilton Boys’ High School 2-1 in their semi-final. Goal-keeper Shannon Lucas won the Golden Gloves award at the conclusion of the tournament.
Team morale and belief in one another is at the highest level it has ever been at Rongotai. Senior A captain Lucas Bertos says the team is in a positive space. He says that Regionals was a tidy and successful day for Rongotai College, with their winning ways continuing on throughout the tournament and through to the final. He believes that Rongotai delivers a quick and exciting new style of futsal that can benefit them at a national level.
Bertos delivered his helping hand in that Regional final, scoring the only goal of the fixture in unbelievable style in the 1-0 win against Wellington College.
The future of Rongotai futsal is bright, as the Junior As were also finalists at the Regional tournament, coming second, and the Senior B side are Wellington Division 2 finalists for 2019.
Coaches Glenn and Darsey Hogan are happy to be involved in the success that this season has brought them so far and they believe these winning ways will only continue throughout nationals and years to come.
Rongotai College don’t have to venture far to attend Nationals, which are being held at Kilbirnie’s ASB Sports Centre all next week, 25-29 March, with the Senior Boys final on Friday afternoon.
A total of 92 teams will be competing in the tournament, in Senior Boys and Girls and Junior Boys and Girls divisions. The girls tournament is being played on Monday and Tuesday before the attention turn to the boys’ competitions from Wednesday through to Friday.
There are eight Senior Boys pools of five teams each, with Rongotai College in Pool B with neighbouring St Pat’s Town, John McGlashan College, Buller High School and Rototuna High School.
For more information visit: https://www.nzfootball.co.nz/COMPETITIONS/Futsal-1/NZSS-Futsal-Championships
The Rongotai College Senior A futsal squad is:
Lucas Bertos (C) , Sean Lane-Turnbull , Matt Carter, Joe Renwick, Matt Peden, Jesse Randall, Ollie Taylor, George Walker, Preston Rota, Johnny Khoun, Mohammad Dia, Jacob Chadwick.
New Zealand have made history today by claiming the bronze medal at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup after defeating Canada 2-1 at the Estadio Charrúa in Montevideo.
Leon Birnie’s side became the first New Zealand team to claim a medal at any FIFA tournament.
New Zealand got off to a fantastic start when they scored twice in the opening 13 minutes through a Grace Wisnweksi double, but Canada got within striking distance when Lara Kazandjian scored a stunning solo goal in the second half and New Zealand held on for a historic win. Birnie said the bronze medal capped off an incredible tournament for his young team.
“Who would have thought?” said Birnie following the game. “We came over here and we had a dream to get out of the group. We made history by doing that and then got into the semi-finals and created more history and now we have just got a bronze medal in a World Cup. How good are these players? Great performance. The first half we were really good and the second half was just pure determination and hanging in there to get that medal.”
Birnie thanked everyone who had supported them on their dream run at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay.
“We have a few big thanks to make. To all the staff over here, the players, the families and friends who are over here we have had an amazing month. Everyone back home and the support from the football community and media, we appreciate it.”
Captain Aneka Mittendorff said it was a special moment for her team after an incredible tournament.
“It feels fantastic,” she said. “We did it, we came third. It is so surreal. We are going to celebrate this win all night long.”
The next generation of Football Ferns got off to a perfect start in the windy and fine conditions when Wisnewski scored the fastest goal in the history of the tournament. New Zealand pressed high up the pitch and Canada tried to do too much deep in their own half. Maggie Jenkins turned the ball over and it fell for Wisnewski to tuck home a good finish home at the near post in 16 seconds. Wisnewski’s quick-fire goal broke the record of Nigeria’s Soo Adekwagh who scored in 22 seconds on 30 October 2008.
There was more to come from the Oceania champions when Wisnewski doubled the lead in the 12th minute. Amelia Abbott linked with Jenkins who put forward a great through-ball. Wisnewksi showed great composure on the ball and hit a powerful shot to defeat the Canadian keeper Anna Karpenko.
The New Zealand team, who defeated Canada 2-1 in the lead-up to the tournament, were off to the perfect start and in control in the bronze medal match.
Canada came back into the match and with a strong wind at their back, dominated possession in the first half with 62 percent of the ball. But it did not faze the Kiwi team who defended staunchly at the back. Leat, the Player of the Match in that historic quarterfinal win over Japan, again showed great composure when she when came off her line to deny Canadian captain Jordyn Huitema. Leat had another superb match in goal and New Zealand held a 2-0 at the break.
The Kiwis had a chance to put the game to bed early in the second half when an opportunity fell for Wisnewski in the 56th minute. The 16-year-old from the Hamilton Wanderers came within inches of securing her hat-trick when her left foot shot from close range ricocheted off the left post.
Soon after, Canada came back into the match when Kazandjian scored in spectacular fashion. The midfielder dragged the ball onto her favoured left foot and hammered home past Leat in goal.
That goal gave Canada huge confidence and they poured forward time and time again in the final 20 minutes. Captain Huitema, Caitlin Shaw and Jayde Riviere all had chances but the Kiwis – led by Hannah Mackay-Wright, Mittendorff and Leat in goal - defended like their lives depended on it and kept them out.
History was made. New Zealand were medallists for the first time at a FIFA tournament.
New Zealand 2 (Grace Wisnewski 1’, 13’)
Canada 1 (Lara Kazandjian 64’)
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 55’), 7. Gabi Rennie (13. Britney Cunningham-Lee 74’), 8. Amelia Abbott (18. Rose Luxton 83’), 9. Maggie Jenkins, 10. Grace Wisnewski, 11. Kelli Brown
Substitutes not used: 12. Jayda Stewart, 14. Laney Strachan, 15. Genevieve Ryan, 17. Ayla Pratt, 19. Arabella Maynard, 20. Georgia Candy (GK), 21. Blair Currie (GK)
Coach: Leon Birnie
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 email@example.com
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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