Chile 2015 will mark New Zealand’s seventh participation in the FIFA U-17 World Cup. It is a tournament in which New Zealand arguably has more historical pedigree than any other FIFA event, even if 2013 proved to be a disappointment. Their debut was at Egypt 1997 in what was one of the nation’s first FIFA competitions. Two years later New Zealand 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 endured a tough qualifying competition, tested by both the opposition and the physical challenge. The Young All Whites tackled a relentless schedule of seven matches in 14 days during the Samoa and American Samoa-based competition. As it transpired they won all their matches until the final, racking up 34 goals en route to the decider. They did, however, need to call on some trademark Kiwi resilience to see off New Caledonia 5-4 in the group stage, and then were pushed all the way by Tahiti in the final before prevailing on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
Impressive and mature showings at the past two FIFA U-17 tournaments are strong evidence of the nation’s ongoing development over recent years. Under young new coach Jose Figueira, New Zealand play an aggressive brand of football both with and without the ball. The current crop features all domestic based players, however the level of teamwork and cohesion on display during qualifying indicates the value provided by many of the team playing together for Wanderers SC in the domestic national youth league.