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)
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