The New Zealand squad that heads to Vanuatu next month looking to qualify for the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup will not be short of experience after coach Darren Bazeley named a set of players that are largely no stranger to wearing the silver fern.
Bazeley will take 18 players to the OFC U-20 Championship, which takes place in Port Vila and Luganville from September 3 to 17, and the squad includes three senior All Whites, two from the previous U-20 campaign and nine who have represented their country at U-17 level.
“It’s been a long process getting to this point but we’re very happy with the squad we’ve named,” Bazeley says.
“We’ve been monitoring, scouting and watching lots of games for nearly a year now and it’s been very hard this time around. There’s a lot of very good footballers that have missed out and we’ve got plenty of depth.”
While Bazeley endured many sleepless nights in making his final selection, there were some players whose claims simply could not be overlooked. Clayton Lewis, Moses Dyer and Logan Rogerson have all been capped at senior level and were named by All Whites coach Anthony Hudson in the squad for June’s OFC Nations Cup.
Lewis and Dyer are also the only returnees from the team that performed heroics to reach the Round of 16 at the FIFA U-20 World Cup last year on home soil while Rogerson and eight others did likewise at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile last October.
The degree of talent in that U-17 group is underlined by the fact that Danny Hay’s New Zealand side came within a whisker of getting a result against heavyweights Brazil, only exciting the tournament after missing a penalty and then conceding one at the other end with literally the last kick of the match to lose 1-0.
It was an astonishing outcome given the gulf in footballing resources and pedigree between the two countries and bodes well for Bazeley as he looks ahead to the U-20 event in Korea Republic next May and June.
“I think there’s 11 players that have put the shirt on before which is great, it means we’re going to have that experience before we step onto the pitch. When you look through the squad, we’ve got some good, exciting players in there and some real leaders.”
The All Whites’ trio would certainly fall into that category and Bazeley is looking to them to act as role models for the others.
“I’m hoping they bring experience and leadership. They’ve been to the islands recently and have played in that environment which will also be a help.”
Most of the squad is based domestically but there are a handful of players in professional environments – either on the books of the Wellington Phoenix or at overseas clubs – and Bazeley says that will be of great benefit.
“We’ve got a few coming in from offshore and we need players in those environments getting fulltime football – it’s exactly what we want,” he says.
“Myer Bevan is at the Nike Academy in England, which is a fulltime, professional environment and they play against some great teams. Michael Woud is coming in from Sunderland and we also have the boys at the Phoenix.”
While there is no doubt about the level of talent in the squad, they will have their work cut out to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, who blazed a trail by becoming the first New Zealand team to progress past the group stages of the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Bazeley was also in charge of that side, who ultimately suffered heartbreak in the Round of 16 by conceding a last-gasp goal to lose 2-1 against Portugal – the senior team of which recently won the UEFA European Championship.
“There’s a big challenge lying ahead in the islands to get through these qualifiers. We’ll make sure the players are ready and they’ll know how hard this is going to be,” he says.
“It’s been proven now over the last few years that these aren’t easy tournaments to go and win. The island teams are getting better and it’s difficult in their conditions. But we’ve got a great belief in this squad that they’re a talented group who can be successful.”
New Zealand squad for OFC U-20 Championship
Vanuatu, September 3-17
Michael Woud (Sunderland AFC, ENG)
Cameron Brown (Waitemata FC)
Hunter Ashworth (University of San Francisco, USA)
Luke Johnson (Saint Kentigern College/Western Springs AFC)
Sean Liddicoat (Coastal Spirit AFC)
Nando Pijnaker (Western Suburbs FC)
Jack-Henry Sinclair (Wellington Phoenix FC)
Charlie Thomas (Western Springs AFC)
Reese Cox (Western Springs AFC)
Joe Bell (Wellington Phoenix FC)
Moses Dyer (Onehunga Sports FC)
Clayton Lewis (Onehunga Sports FC)
James McGarry (Wellington Phoenix FC)
Sarpreet Singh (Wellington Phoenix FC)
Myer Bevan (Nike Academy, ENG)
George Debenham (Western Springs AFC)
Lucas Imrie (Sacred Heart College/Western Springs AFC)
Logan Rogerson (Wellington Phoenix FC)
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