With the Under-17 World Cup in India set to kick-off on Friday, Football in Oceania takes a look at who the OFC nations are up against. We start with the Kiwis.
The OFC champions were given a favourable draw from their position in Pot 2 and avoided the biggest names in Pot 1. Where they could have ended up with Brazil, France, Germany or Mexico they instead got Mali, the second “easiest” opposition from that pot along with the hosts themselves. The other two nations in the young All Whites group were Turkey and Paraguay, which does not seem like the most difficult opposition they could have gotten at first glance. Now let’s take a closer look at who New Zealand’s opposition really are.
New Zealand open their campaign against Turkey on Friday and the Europeans have previously had some world class players come through their youth system.
The Turks are in their third U-17 World Cup after a European Championship that saw them reach the semi-final only to be beaten by England. Under the watchful eye of former Fenerbahce academy coach Mehmet Hacioglu the side have shown what they are capable off and have some very interesting players in the squad.
Among those are Galatasaray’s Atalay Babacan, named in the European Championship Team of the Tournament, and goalkeeper Berke Özer, who is set to join Manchester City when he turns 18 and is being called “Turkey’s Donnarumma”, in reference to Italian giants AC Milan’s teenage sensation.
The best they have done in the U-17 World Cup was a fourth place in 2005 when the squad consisted of names such as Caner Erkin, Nuri Sahin and two goalkeepers with senior caps in Volkan Babacan and Onur Kivrak.
NEW ZEALAND – TURKEY: FRIDAY 6TH OCTOBER 17:00 LOCAL TIME
Los Guaraníes are coached by former player Gustavo Moríngo who represented the South American nation on the highest international stage including one World Cup appearance, as a substitute in the 2002 World Cup in Panama’s opening match against South Africa.
The Panamanians come to the tournament following a third place in the Campeonato Sudamericana where they won 1-0 against Argentina in the group stage and drew 1-1 with Brazil in the preliminary group stages. In the final stage, the three best teams from each group were placed in one group and here Paraguay on again drew with Brazil as well as Ecuador before beating Chile and Venezuela to secure the third place before a final day defeat to Colombia.
The squad are mostly made up of players who play in Paraguay but Valencia’s young goalkeepers Diego Huesca is in the squad as well as Aníbal Vega who plays for Palmeiras in Brazil
This will be the Paraguayans fourth trip to the U-17 World Cup where they had their best result back in 1999 when New Zealand hosted the tournament, reaching the quarterfinals before being knocked out by Brazil.
NEW ZEALAND – PARAGUAY: 9TH OCTOBER 20:00 LOCAL TIME
The Africans come to the tournament as reigning African Champions having taken their second U-17 title in a row. The Malians came second in the last U-17 World Cup and the Western African country have normally been quite good at youth level while struggling once the teams come to the senior level, only qualifying for the African Cup of Nations 10 times out of a possible 31 since 1957. They have also never been to a World Cup at the senior stage.
This will be the young Eagles fifth appearance at this age level and the line will be lead by Hadji Dramé who, like the rest of the squad, plays his football in Mali, for Yelleni Olympic. The 17-year old scored three times in the AFCON back in May.
Despite Mali perhaps being what most would assume the “easier” opposition from Pot 1 their recent history at youth tournaments and the win in the AFCON means that they must be taken very seriously if New Zealand want a point against them, which may very well be required on the final matchday. If they play anything like they did with the team that won silver in 2015 it will be hard and fast counter-attacking with explosive strikers and wingers to bomb up the pitch.
NEW ZEALAND – MALI: 12TH OCTOBER 17:00 LOCAL TIME
And in case you’ve missed it. Here’s New Zealand’s squad for the tournament:
Football in Oceania wishes New Zealand all the best in the U-17 World Cup