New Zealand’s Junior All Whites capped a successful week on the international front by winning the OFC U-20 Championship with a perfect record to win through to the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013. The young Kiwis won the tournament in Fiji, after the senior side had completed a 100 per cent record in their Oceania final-stage FIFA World Cup™ campaign on Tuesday to advance to the intercontinental play-off.
Aside from New Zealand and the host nation the eight-day tournament also featured New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu and was played over two locations, namely Ba and Lautoka. With the tournament featuring only five of the Oceania Football Confederation’s 11 Member Associations, the teams played each other once based on a league system. Notable absentees included Solomon Islands who were finalists in 2011, and Tahiti – the only Pacific Islands nation to win the tournament – who were crowned in 2008 and subsequently made a historic appearance at the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt.
Kiwis pushed all the way
New Zealand’s perfect record on paper belied the tightness of most of their matches. The Junior All Whites defeated New Caledonia and Vanuatu by just a single goal. Combined with a hefty 5-0 defeat of bottom-placed Papua New Guinea, New Zealand went into their final match on the penultimate matchday facing a winner-takes-all scenario against Fiji.
The home side pushed their more experienced opponents until being reduced to ten men midway through the second half. New Zealand took full advantage of their numerical supremacy scoring four unanswered goals during the second period to stamp their ticket to Turkey.
“Winning the tournament is what we expected to do but it’s still exciting,” said New Zealand coach Chris Milicich. “We have a good group to go into the World Cup and once again New Zealand has a team that can produce on the world stage and hopefully we can get more of these players into a professional environment.”
Despite failure to achieve their aim of a historic qualification to the 24-nation global tournament, Fiji, who experienced a disjointed preparation due to storms, were pleased with the development of their players. “There is still a future ahead for the players because we will try to build up this team to be part of the U-23 set up for the next Olympic qualifiers,” said Fiji coach Ravinesh Kumar.
Vanuatu, who only narrowly failed to get the better of New Zealand in last year’s qualifying for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, finished in third position with two wins, ahead of New Caledonia with a lone victory to their credit. Vanuatu’s Dalong Damalip and Junior All Whites attacker Louis Fenton, who plies his trade with New Zealand's only professional club, Wellington Phoenix, shared golden boot honours with four goals apiece.
Next stop Turkey
New Zealand’s win sees the Kiwis set for a third appearance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup having also featured at Canada 2007 and Colombia 2011. Though yet to secure a win on the world stage New Zealand impressed two years ago in Colombia drawing twice and suffering a narrow 1-0 loss against eventual runners-up Portugal.
The tournament draw, held earlier this week in Istanbul, saw New Zealand drawn into Group F alongside Uzbekistan, Uruguay and Croatia. “It’s an interesting draw with some seriously good teams,” said Milicich, who also led New Zealand at Colombia 2011 and previously coached Waitakere United at the FIFA Club World Cup.