When the clock strikes six in the northern Mexican city of Torreon and the much anticipated match-up between New Zealand and the Czech Republic gets underway, all eyes will be fixed on a young man who has staked his claim for future stardom.
In the Young All Whites' opening contest, midfielder Stephen Carmichael scored three goals in his side’s 4-1 drubbing of disconsolate Uzbekistan. The win leaves New Zealand needing a single point from their remaining two Group D games against the Czech Republic and USA to secure their place in the Round of 16.
In the opening exchanges Uzbekistan were fluent in attack, and it looked as if they might sweep their opponents aside. Carmicheal, however, had other ideas. His first strike, a rocket launched from inside the area that reduced goalkeeper Ganisher Kholmurodov to a helpless spectator, stopped the Uzbeks in their tracks and set the tone for the rest of the match.
It was an incredible feeling. To score a hat-trick at the World Cup is a real achievement.
“These goals mean a lot to me,” said Carmichael. “They’re my first for the national side but the final result was a team effort. Ever since we qualified for the U-17 World Cup we’ve worked hard and practised and trained down to the last detail. Success is down to good preparation and excellent execution.”
Carmichael was only getting into his stride. Slipping through the Uzbekistan defence, the youngster fought his way past the goalkeeper and remaining defender to find himself in front of an open goalmouth for number two. The spirit of the team was visibly lifted by this strike and although Uzbekistan pulled one back in the 39th minute, New Zealand left the field at half-time believing they could win.
Now that the midfielder had that rarest of achievements, a FIFA World Cup hat-trick, in his sights, there was no stopping him. Latching on to a cross arrowed in from the left, Carmichael swept the ball home, and there it was: the magical number three.
“It was an incredible feeling. To score a hat-trick at the World Cup is a real achievement, but my first priority was the win and to get the three points towards qualifying for the Round of 16. I was in the right place at the right time. With the second and third goals in particular it was just a case of putting into practice what we’d learnt in training. I dedicate my hat-trick to the whole team, because it came from a team effort out on the pitch.”
Europe in his eyes
Stephen Carmichael is the 25th player to score a hat trick in the long history of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, and joins a list that includes illustrious names such as Nigeria’s Nwankwo Kanu (1993) and Spain’s David Silva (2003).
Born on 28 March 1994, the Central United midfield prodigy’s dreams of European club glory may come true sooner rather than later, and the man himself is not coy on the subject.
“Sure I want to play in Europe. I’d like to be at a club that plays beautiful football, that dazzles people. Arsenal is the team I want to be with: they’ve got an approach all of their own. I don’t want to take too long about it, either. It would be great to get a chance to play alongside my idol Cesc Fabregas. The guy’s a leader in every sense of the word. He's a unique personality who can do everything on the pitch, up to and including scoring goals!”
For Carmichael, New Zealand’s remaining group games are as much opportunities as challenges: “They are two important matches, for sure, but if I can score more goals at this tournament it would be fantastic as well. I hope I do.”