There might be a sense of déjà vu for New Zealand as they prepare to kick off the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Bursa tomorrow.
While they may be about 7,000 miles east and a couple of years older, a healthy chunk of this Junior All Whites squad will no doubt be getting flashbacks of Torreon and the last time they began a FIFA tournament, back at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico.
Uzbekistan are once again the opening opponents, and if it could bring the same result as two years ago, the Oceania side would no doubt be leaving the Bursa Ataturk Stadium delighted, having kicked off the competition with three points.
The 4-1 win they secured in the Nuevo Estadio Corona holds some great memories for the Kiwis - all the more so as it was the first win by a men's New Zealand squad at a FIFA tournament since 1999 - and five of the squad in Turkey started that day. Two of that quintet, midfielders Cameron Howieson and Tim Payne, rank it as one of their finest moments in football so far.
“I have very good memories of that match,” Payne recalled. “It's one my highlights for sure, looking back especially with how Uzebkistan ended up doing. We came out and played really well, scored some goals. After that game it was a great buzz, it was awesome.”
“Yeah, best feeling ever,” Howieson added. “They went pretty far in the tournament, getting to the quarter-finals, and beating the Aussies 4-0 – I had to mention something there."
Looking ahead to tomorrow's game, the belief emanating from two years ago is tempered slightly by the expectation of a backlash from the Uzbek side. “Hopefully we can do the same and pull it off,” the 18-year-old Howieson said. “They probably want revenge, but we're going into the game pretty confident. We're looking to get the three points and I think we have the team to do it, but we just have to be focussed on the game.”
Payne, 19 years old and three weeks off being a full 12 months older than has team-mate, concurred. “Definitely. As Cam said, they'll be out to get us this time around.”
Victory set them on the path to reaching the U-17s knock-out stage, and both players hope a good start can set them on a similar - perhaps even better - trajectory in Turkey. “Obviously all the teams are tough, but if we can get the first one out of the way it sets us up for the rest of the group,” Howieson said.
“We won the game at the U-17s and that got us off to a really good start, so hopefully we can then go on to get a win or a draw in the second game to help put us through. We want to finish as high as possible, so we'll have to wait and see.”
The pair also bolstered their international know-how at the 2012 Olympic Football Tournament, when they featured in all three of New Zealand's games. “It was really good to be a part of it, playing against some big players and the experience of it all, and we're lucky as we might get the chance to experience it again. I learnt a lot from it.”
Off the back of that, they've both now featured for the senior side and helped the All Whites towards a spot in the intercontinental play-off in November. The chance to play amongst the country's best is one they have been relishing.
“We've been in the All Whites a few times and it's always good being in a top team,” Payne said. “There's the likes of Ryan Nelsen, who has obviously retired now, Winston Reid, Tommy Smith and Chris Wood in there, and when you are around good players you learn more. It's definitely helped us.”
With a contender from North, Central America and the Caribbean to come in that intercontinental play-off, both are aware it will be no easy game. However, Payne hopes they can recreate the fervour that came with the victory over Bahrain, swung by a 1-0 triumph in Wellington, that sent New Zealand to its second FIFA World Cup.
“That's obviously going to be a massive game. The last one was huge against Bahrain, it was packed out, with a big buzz, so hopefully it's like that again, and hopefully we can make it through,” he said.
Howieson similarly has his eyes on trying to make Brazil 2014, once the important business in Turkey is dealt with of course. "Obviously the World Cup is the big one. My aims are to make that squad and hopefully, if we do qualify, to be there."
The pair have been following similar paths of late, both ending up in the English championship at Lancashire arch-rivals Blackburn Rovers and Burnley, however they're quick to admit the passionate has impacted on their own relationship.
“There's always bragging rights, but whatever happens we're still the best of mates,” said Payne, who joined Rovers off the back of his displays at the Olympics. “Blackburn and Burnley are rivals, and their fans are obviously want their side to win, but at the end of the day we're both going to be best mates.”
Being in such proximity to each other has no doubt helped the pair settle in a fair way from home, too. “It's definitely good being on the other side of the world and having a mate only half an hour away,” Payne admitted.
Though the distance is certainly great, the benefits of relocating are paying off, even if some things take a bit of getting used to in England, Howieson has found. “It's cold [laughs], too cold. It's been really good, the last two years have just flown by. I've learnt a lot, it's more physical and the football is nuts.”
Payne agreed, clearly enjoying his new surroundings, earning a living while being fully-immersed in doing what he loves. “It's full-time football, it's living it, breathing it.”