When New Zealand take on Uzbekistan it will most definitely be a clash between seasoned campaigners and novices. The Kiwis are making their fifth appearance in this competition, while their Central Asian opponents are taking their tournament bow.
Having already played at four FIFA U-17 World Cups, New Zealand will have the considerable benefit of past experience on their side. They Kiwis arrived fully acclimatised and determined to prove they can do more than make up the numbers. Morale is high after some excellent performances at the Oceania qualifying tournament – form they are hoping to take into the main event in Mexico.
In contrast, Uzbekistan are making their debut at the finals and will be aiming to make a name for themselves on the world stage. Their performances in qualifying suggest they are ready to compete at this level. Opponents will be especially wary of their forwards, who terrorised defences in the Asian Championship en route a runners-up finish.
15 - The number of goals scored by the Uzbeks in the Asian U-16 Championship – a significant stat that their opponents at the finals should take note of.
“Our aim on our debut is to show everyone what we’re capable of. The first match will be difficult and could decide our fate, so we’ll be going all out to win it or at least come through with a positive result. We’ve collected a lot of information on our opponents and I believe the players can secure a victory. Hopefully when we take to the field, we can apply everything we’ve done in training,” Uzbekistan coach Aleksey Evstafeev.
“The opening match is always difficult no matter who the opponents are. We’ve come to win and play well, and hopefully repeat what we did in Nigeria [the U-17 finals two years ago]. I don’t know what difficulties we’ll face in the match. The climatic conditions will be harsh as it will be played at a very high temperature, but that’s the same for everybody. We aim to get a positive result and qualify for the next round,” New Zealand coach Aaron McFarland.