Despite their pedigree in Oceania, the Kiwis have surprisingly participated in only one previous FIFA U-20 World Cup, that being four years ago in Canada. The Junior All Whites were stunned by Tahiti in the last qualifying campaign, with Australia providing a seemingly insurmountable obstacle prior to joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006.
Although the New Zealanders exited Canada 2007 without a point, they were far from disgraced in what was just the fifth time that the nation had qualified for a FIFA tournament. A 2-0 opening defeat against Portugal was followed by a 1-0 loss against Gambia, before conceding a 2-1 scoreline against a Javier Hernandez-inspired Mexico, with captain Jack Pelter collecting the Junior All Whites only goal at this level.
New Zealand qualified for Colombia 2011 in emphatic fashion winning all four matches handsomely against some well-prepared Oceania opponents. A 3-0 win over the always competitive Solomon Islands was followed by a remarkable 10-0 rout of New Caledonia, who had claimed the runners-up position in the previous tournament. Arguably the most impressive performance was a 6-0 semi-final win against a Fiji side which had spent months preparing. Although held 1-1 by the Solomons at half-time in the final, qualification was never in doubt after two quickfire goals ensured New Zealand collected a deserved 3-1 win and passage to Colombia.
Chris Milicich is just one of a handful of New Zealand coaches with experience at a FIFA tournament, having taken Waitakere United to the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup. That experience, plus the knowledge garnered during a highly successful stint at the helm of the Auckland-based club, will stand the Junior All Whites in good stead as they face up to a tough group featuring Cameroon, Portugal and Uruguay.
Many believe this is one of New Zealand’s most accomplished all-time youth teams, with the squad used in qualifying featuring eight players drawn from professional clubs, including All White squad members Marco Rojas and Luke Rowe. The Kiwis demonstrated typical proficiency from dead-ball situations in the qualifying matches, but it was in attack where they unexpectedly impressed best. A number of dynamic and gifted attacking players mean the Kiwis have a variety of options going forward, most notably 2010 FIFA World Cup™ striker Chris Wood.