New Zealand to do it for duo

Injuries are part and parcel of football. But when a player becomes seriously ill, it causes grave concern for their team-mates and coaches. Most of all, it underlines the fact that football is only a game.

New Zealand U-17 coach Colin Tuaa was placed in the unenviable situation of learning that one of his players, defender Isaac Fitzgerald, had a tumour in his kidney which required immediate surgery.

Fitzgerald, who had played for New Zealand against USA in Korea in June, was swiftly taken to hospital to have it cut out. The tumour weighed 2.2kg - and the organ was later removed. The teenager is now undergoing a grueling schedule of chemotherapy.

His club and U-17 international team-mate, Lance Heslop, has also been ruled out of Korea, as he suffered a broken jaw in a friendly against Hungary. The midfielder needed two metal plates inserted into the joint, which will remain there for the rest of his life.

Tuaa admits that had both been fit, they would have been part of his squad for the FIFA U-17 World Cup. However, he believes that the loss of Fitzgerald and Heslop will give his squad an extra edge going to the tournament.

"There's no doubt the boys will be playing for Lance and Isaac and especially so for Isaac because that was so devastating...it's certainly going to give us that little bit of extra motivation," he said.

"For a 16-year-old (Fitzgerald) to have something like that is very tough to take. From a football point of view, he has been with us the whole way and was one of the most popular ones in the group

"But while his dream of going to the World Cup has been shattered, it's more important that his health is now back on track. He just needs to keep focused on getting himself right and once he does, I'm sure he'll be a stronger person for it and will kick on and have a strong career."

Tough draw
The Kiwis will be based in Jeju for their matches against Brazil (18 August) and England (21 August), before travelling to Ulsan to face Korea DPR (24 August) in their final Group B game.

It is the second of three appearances at a FIFA event for New Zealand this year, but like the U-20 side and the women's team, the U-17 All Whites have a tough draw. However, Tuaa is confident that his squad has the ability to surprise.

"I think for us, the players have a good understanding of how we play," he continued. "It's more about getting them mentally prepared, actually thinking they can cause an upset. If our mindset's like that and we can get them nice and fresh, we'll have a chance."

The U-17s assembled in Auckland last month for a three-day camp in preparation for their opener against Brazil.