New Zealand’s Young All Whites have participated in four previous FIFA U-17 World Cups with their most recent showing at Nigeria 2009 being by far their most profitable. The class of 2009 carved themselves a small piece of New Zealand football history by becoming the first Kiwi team to progress to the knockout phase of a FIFA tournament. It was a quantum leap from the nation’s debut 12 years earlier in Egypt when they suffered a record defeat against Spain. Nevertheless the Young All Whites rebounded two years later on home soil and claimed their maiden FIFA World Cup win with a memorable 2-1 triumph against Poland.
Unlike two years ago when the New Zealanders cruised through qualifying in an abbreviated four-nation tournament, this time around proved a very different experience. The Kiwis were made to work hard for their passage to Mexico 2011 across five matches in a ten-nation Oceania qualifying tournament. New Zealand showed both their organisation and defensive resilience during the tournament by conceding just one goal. Injuries to midfielder James Debenham and Canterbury defender Shawn O’Brien on the eve of the tournament allowed an opportunity for Rory Turner and Reilly O’Meagher to impress, broadening the competition for squad places.
The squad which competed in the qualifying tournament was primarily comprised of National Youth League players with several already competing in the National League. Leading up to the tournament in Mexico the squad will be based in Auckland under the watchful eye of newly appointed coach Aaron McFarland, who replaced Steve Cain. The timing of the qualifying tournament not only allows sufficient preparation time for the new boss as he seeks to recreate the success of Nigeria 2009 but also provides scope for fresh faces to come into contention. "I’ve told this lot they need to make the last eight. I think we can do it," said the Kiwi coach.