New Zealand has made three previous forays to the FIFA U-17 World Cup, including the last tournament in Korea Republic, but they have yet to progress to the knockout stage. Their debut appearance came in 1997 and ended in disappointment with a record loss against Spain. Two years later as hosts proved quite different, with the Young All Whites scoring their nation's first FIFA World Cup win with a 2-1 triumph over Poland. In 2007 the New Zealanders lost all three group games, though they only narrowly failed to earn at least a point in their last match losing 1-0 to Korea DPR.
Things are looking promising for New Zealand's class of 2009 as the team look to overcome the disappointment of Korea two years ago. The Young All Whites qualified in solid and resiliant fashion, winning all three matches in the Oceania qualifiers without conceding a goal. The clean sheet record was achieved despite playing their last match against the number-two ranked team, Tahiti, with only ten players for the entire duration of the second half. Although only playing three qualification matches, and with only minimal international exposure, the team are well prepared as a unit. The core of the squad has been playing together for around 18 months having competed in the New Zealand youth league last year. The team has continued to play and train together this year in Auckland in regional competition.
Two key attacking players ply their trade in the United Kingdom - midfielder Cameron Lindsay at Blackburn Rovers and forward Andrew Milne at Rangers, the latter scoring some crucial goals in the qualifiers. Also impressing in the centre of the park was midfielder Jack Hobson-McVeigh who proved influential in the campaign. Coach Steve Cain, who has one of the best track-records in New Zealand domestic football, has identified the importance of maintaining the sound defensive showings displayed throughout the qualifiers. "We are going to have to be right on top of our game defensively to get the results we want in Nigeria, and we got off to a good start in that regard during the qualifiers and we need to maintain that," he says.
Facts and figures
Ben Sigmund (1997), Dave Mulligan (1999), Chris Wood (2007)
Jack Hobson-McVeigh (midfielder), Cameron Lindsay (midfielder), Andrew Milne (forward)
3 wins, 0 draw, 0 defeats, 7 goals scored and 0 conceded.
The numbers game
9 - The number of matches played by New Zealand at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.