The players charged with reaching the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India have been revealed after the naming of the New Zealand squad to compete in this month’s Oceania qualifiers in Tahiti.
The OFC U-17 Championship will be held from February 11 to 24 and New Zealand have been drawn in Group B, in which they will meet Samoa, Solomon Islands and Fiji at Stade Pater in Pirae. The semi-finals and final will also take place at the same venue with a place at India 2017 in October on offer for the victors.
After months of talent identification and sessions with a wider training group, coach Danny Hay has now settled on the 18 young men he hopes will take New Zealand there and is excited about the potential of the squad.
“It’s hard to know until we actually get put under the pump over in the qualifiers but, in terms of the raw talent we’ve got, I think it’s very good,” he says.
“One thing we’ve started to improve on is developing very good technical players and we’ve got a lot of quality going forward. That’s promising because if you’d said that a few years ago people probably wouldn’t have believed you. I think it’s a sign of the changing nature of the game in this country.”
The best-represented clubs in the squad are the Wellington Phoenix Academy and Onehunga Sports, who provide five and four players respectively, while only one player is based overseas in the form of Brisbane Roar midfielder Oliver Duncan.
“Ollie’s name got thrown at us by one of our contacts over in Australia and we’re really pleased that we brought him in. He’s an outstanding young footballer and is a name I think we’re going to hear a fair bit of in the future,” Hay says.
New Zealand go into the qualifying tournament as defending champions but only need to look back as recently as the previous event two years ago – in which the Kiwis drew with Tahiti in the final before triumphing on penalties – to see that they will not have things all their own way.
“It’s always going to be very difficult for us going over to the islands, you’ve got very difficult conditions with the heat and humidity so that’s just something we’re going to have to deal with. There can’t be any excuses around that because we’re fully aware of what we’re going into,” Hay says.
“And the reality is that the other island nations are very good these days – they’ve got really good programmes in place and a lot of their players are working full-time together so they’re going to be a real challenge. We’re certainly not going there underestimating any of our opponents.”
The New Zealand players will not have to look far for ideal role models as Hay is joined on the coaching staff by assistant Chris Zoricich and goalkeeper coach Jason Batty, who also serves as Football Development Manager for the Auckland Football Federation. All three are ex-All Whites captains and form a trio packed full of experience and footballing nous.
They will be looking to pass on as much of that knowledge as possible and Hay says player development will be just as important as lifting the trophy and booking a spot in India.
“The nice thing we’ve seen in recent years, particularly since Anthony Hudson came in, is that there’s a real alignment between what the All Whites and the age-group sides are doing. These young players have a huge opportunity, not only to win a tournament and qualify for the World Cup, but also to put themselves in the picture for higher honours, whether that be in the U-20s or even beyond,” he says.
“My job as a coach is to win the tournament because we’re all about winning but it’s also about giving these boys an understanding of the style of play and the roles and responsibilities within that in terms of the way New Zealand teams are playing going forward.”
New Zealand squad for OFC U-17 Championship
Dylan BENNETT (Onehunga Sports)
Zac JONES (Wellington Olympic)
Liberato CACACE (Wellington Phoenix Academy)
Ben DEELEY (Auckland Grammar School)
Matthew JONES (Canterbury United)
Josh ROGERSON (Ole Academy)
Jake WILLIAMS (Wellington Phoenix Academy)
Oliver DUNCAN (Brisbane Roar, AUS)
Willem EBBINGE (Wellington Phoenix Academy)
Elijah JUST (Ole Academy)
Kingsley SINCLAIR (Onehunga Sports)
Leon VAN DEN HOVEN (Onehunga Sports)
Oliver WHYTE (Wellington Phoenix Academy)
Matthew CONROY (Wellington Phoenix Academy)
Max MATA (Onehunga Sports)
Matthew PALMER (Fencibles United)
Jordan SPAIN (Canterbury United)
Charles SPRAGG (Western Springs)
Head Coach: Danny HAY
Assistant Coach: Chris ZORICICH
Goalkeeper Coach: Jason BATTY
Team Analyst: Kane WINTERSGILL
Team Manager: Simon HILTON
Physiotherapist: Luke BURGESS
Sport Scientist: Luke STANAWAY
Samoa vs New Zealand
Sunday 12 February, 4pm (3pm NZT)
New Zealand vs Solomon Islands
Wednesday 15 February, 4pm (3pm NZT)
New Zealand vs Fiji
Saturday 18 February, 7pm (6pm NZT)
Winner Group A vs Runner-up Group B
Tuesday 21 February, 4pm (3pm NZT)
Winner Group B vs Runner-up Runner-up Group A
Tuesday 21 February, 7pm (6pm NZT)
Winner Semi-Final 1 vs Winner Semi-Final 2
Friday 24 February, 7pm (6pm NZT)
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