UAE 2013 will mark New Zealand’s sixth participation in the FIFA U-17 World Cup. It is perhaps a tournament in which New Zealand has more historical pedigree than any other FIFA event. Their debut was at Egypt 1997, in what was one of the nation’s first FIFA tournaments. Two years later they played host to the tournament; the first to be held in Oceania, aside from those hosted by former OFC member Australia. More recently, New Zealand’s team at Nigeria 2009 etched their name into the nation’s football annals by becoming the first Kiwi team to progress to the knockout phase of a FIFA tournament. They repeated the feat at Mexico 2011 providing further proof of a flourishing talent production line.
New Zealand were in control throughout most of April’s six-nation qualifying tournament held in Vanuatu. A 9-0 opening win against Cook Islands set the tone for a very different experience compared to two years earlier, when the Kiwis were pushed hard en-route to Mexico 2011. This time around they had a scare only against Fiji who held the Young All Whites until midway through the second half. Ultimately, New Zealand cruised to a six-point winning margin over second-placed New Caledonia, winning all five matches scoring 23 goals and conceding just 3.
New Zealand’s impressive and mature showings at the past two FIFA U-17 tournaments is strong evidence of the nation’s development over recent years. Former English professional Darren Bazeley has the reins this time and is well-versed in the national team environment, having featured as assistant over the past two campaigns. The squad features a handful of overseas based professionals, with the majority of the team based in Auckland competing in the New Zealand national youth league season prior to the qualifiers.