New Zealand U-17 coach Danny Hay has delivered a clear message to his squad ahead of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.
The former All Whites captain has told his 21-man squad in their first selection for a FIFA World Cup that this is the start of their international careers and they need to earn the right to play for New Zealand.
“This group has done that and I have been impressed by the squad’s character both in our qualifiers and in our training camps as we build towards this tournament,” said Hay, who played 31 internationals for New Zealand.
Selecting this FIFA World Cup squad has been a two-year process for Hay and his assistant coaches former All Whites Chris Zorocich and Jason Batty. They believe they have named a squad with plenty of character and quality.
“The message is clear to all of these young lads; playing for New Zealand is not a right, it is a privilege. It is something you have to earn and work hard for. The U-17s are the first cab off the rank in international football so this group of players is very excited about going to a World Cup and seeing what they can do. We have a very balanced squad. We have good players right across the park and more so than other age group teams we have some real quality going forward.”
Hay has been happy with his team’s build-up for the tournament which has included a short training camp for fitness and conditioning testing in Auckland and a warm-up match against Auckland City FC which they won 4-1.
New Zealand will open their tournament against Turkey on 6 October before they meet South American powerhouse Paraguay (both in Mumbai) and then complete Group B against African champions Mali (New Delhi) in the tournament which will be contested from 6 and 28 October in six venues across India.
“We know that Mali, like most African nations, will be very strong in the U-17 and U-20 national teams. We think they have a chance of winning the title so it will be great going up against one of the favourites. Paraguay lost only one game from 12 in qualifying for this event and Turkey were also very impressive in their qualifying only losing to England and Spain, the two top teams. It is going to be difficult but we are all really looking forward to the challenge.”
Hay is pleased with the fitness levels in this NZ U-17 squad and their attacking intent which they displayed on Tuesday night against National League opposition in the Navy Blues.
Three of the standout performers of the OFC U-17 Championship in Tahiti were Charles Spragg (Golden Boot), Zac Jones (Golden Glove) and exciting midfielder Elijah Just.
“Charles has really developed in recent time and had a fine qualifying tournament,” said Hay. “He will be in good competition for a starting place as we have good depth in our forwards with the likes of Max Mata and Matt Conroy. As a former central defender, Charles is the sort of player I used to hate marking. He has great work ethic and het goes all day and that is exactly what we want from him.
“Eli is an exciting young kid who has spent some time training with the All Whites squad recently. He is a product of Declan Edge’s Ole Football Academy and he has done a good job with him. He has a big future.”
Hay paid tribute to Noel Barkley, the CEO of the Football Foundation, who has supported part of their pre-tour with two important friendlies against Brazil and England on 28 September and 1 October respectively.
“I have to say Noel has been brilliant to us and we are very appreciative of the support from the Football Foundation,” said Hay. “Alongside New Zealand Football, they have helped us have a world-class build-up to this World Cup and these games could have a massive impact on our results in this tournament.”
Hay said the New Zealand Football High Performance Pathway is well aligned so the benefit of this NZ U-17 competing at the highest level will deliver long-term reward.
“Players from this group have learnt the same style of play and approach that Darren Bazeley is employing with the NZ U-20s and also with that Anthony Hudson is doing with the national team. We are all on the same page so this sort of experience at a big tournament against world-class opposition will only benefit our national teams going forward.”
The New Zealand U-17s will look to replicate the feats of the NZ team at the tournament two years ago in Chile where they defeated Parauguay 2-1 in their final game to make the Round of 16. They lost in the playoff stages to Brazil (1-0) but showed huge promise on the world stage.
New Zealand U-17 Squad to contest the FIFA U-17 World Cup
Leon Van Den Hoven
FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 Draw
Group A: India, USA, Colombia, Ghana
Group B: Paraguay, Mali, New Zealand, Turkey
Group C: Iran, Guinea, Germany, Costa Rica
Group D: Korea DPR, Niger, Brazil, Spain
Group E: Honduras, Japan, New Caledonia, France
Group F: Iraq, Mexico, Chile, England
New Zealand’s Group B games at the FIFA U-17 World Cup India
Friday 6 October, kick off 5:30pm local time (Saturday 7 October 1am NZT)
Dr DY Patil Stadium, Mumbai
Monday 9 October, kick off 8pm local time (Tuesday 10 October 3:30am NZT)
Dr DY Patil Stadium, Mumbai
Thursday 12 October, kick off 5pm local time (Friday 13 October 12:30am NZT)
Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi
All games live on SKY Sport NZ