Cacace leading the charge for NZ’s generation next

17 Jul 2021
  • Liberato Cacace is among New Zealand’s brightest young stars at Tokyo 2020

  • Kiwis seeking breakthrough showing in their third Men’s Olympic Football Tournament

  • “We don’t want to be labelled as the underdog anymore”

Though yet to enjoy his twenty-first birthday, Liberato Cacace has been long been making a splash. The Wellington-born full-back debuted for New Zealand at the tender age of just 17, and by 19 he had hailed “as the best left full-back (in the A-League) without a doubt.” Two years ago Cacace was named Wellington Phoenix’s best young player ahead of the Bayern Munich-bound Sarpreet Singh, and the following year the players’ association also named him the A-League’s best youngster. Now another major milestone looms, with his football CV just a few days away from being marked ‘Olympian’. A technically gifted and intelligent footballer with an attacking instinct, Cacace is one of the jewels among an impressive group of young players developed in New Zealand in recent years. While Singh is absent from Tokyo 2020, New Zealand are boosted by arguably the best nation’s best two players in English Premier League duo Winston Reid and Chris Wood. Make no mistake, New Zealand are not simply satisfied with making up the numbers at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament. Without a win in their two previous appearances, New Zealand are looking to put down a marker at Tokyo 2020 over the coming few weeks, and they believe have every chance of doing so. “We have always said our goal is to show the rest of the world what we can do,” Cacace told FIFA.com. “We don’t want to be labelled as the underdog anymore so that is one thing we want to change. “We have a pretty young squad, especially compared to the other teams in our group. But we don’t think about that. Danny (Hay) our coach keeps telling us we are good players and not just here to make up the numbers.”

In the selection of Reid, a key figure from the nation’s milestone 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010™ campaign, and Wood, Burnley’s towering and regular goalscorer, New Zealand have laid down a statement of intent. “It has been a mental and physical boost (to the team),” Cacace said of the pair’s integration into the squad. “They are great people to have around and are always telling us we can do a lot here at the Games. “On the pitch, they show that incredible physical appearance to really scare the opposition. They are great to have around but the whole squad are great people and we have an excellent team spirit.”

RUSTENBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 15: Winston Reid of New Zealand (#4) celebrates scoring the first goal for his team during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group F match between New Zealand and Slovakia at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium on June 15, 2010 in Rustenburg, South Africa. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

For Cacace, as with most athletes in Tokyo, the year-long delay and uncertainty brought about by Covid-19 has made for some challenges. That, Cacace says, will only make Thursday’s opener against Korea Republic all the more memorable. “My parents, friends and family keep telling me ‘you are going to be an Olympian’. It is crazy to think of that. It hasn’t really hit me and perhaps won’t fully until I walk onto the pitch for the first game.” With an Italian background, football runs deep in the Cacace DNA. “I grew up around football,” says Cacace. Both parents’ heritage lay in a small village on the Campania coast south of Naples. “I have made it known (playing in Italy), that is the dream,” says Cacace, a self-confessed Napoli fan. “I used to look up to a lot of the Italian players growing up, especially the 2006 World Cup and that made me fall in love with the game. “When I was younger I watched a lot of (Fabio) Cannavaro and liked the way he didn’t care about his size and could bully players. I try and use that (mentality) and try and dominate my opposite player. I would like to add that bulldog into my game.”