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Waine making most of surprise chances

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Rising star Ben Waine is making a habit of getting the most out of unexpected opportunities, a trend he hopes continues as he prepares for his first taste of a FIFA World Cup.

The 17-year-old never expected to feature for the Wellington Phoenix first team in this season’s A-League and certainly didn’t think he would find himself in Poland this month getting ready for one of the biggest football tournaments on the planet.

But both those flights of fancy have come to fruition and Waine’s golden run got even better a few days ago when he opened his account for his country as the New Zealand U-20 men’s team drew 1-1 with Korea Republic as part of their World Cup build-up.

Waine is still pinching himself at how the last few months have panned out but beneath his surprise is a steely determination to continue grasping such chances with both hands.

"I’m just looking to make the most out of it," he says of the upcoming FIFA U-20 World Cup, which pits New Zealand against Honduras, Norway and Uruguay in the group stages.

"I might be one of the youngest players here but I’m definitely not going to let that stop me from trying to push through and earn a starting spot. I want to make a difference to the team and score goals - that’s my main aim for the tournament. I want to do my best to make sure we do as well as we can."

That self-assured sense of purpose goes some way towards explaining why the talented teen has been such a big hit recently.

Top scorer for the Wellington Phoenix Reserves in the ISPS Handa Premiership, the exploits of the Wellington-born striker caught the eye of first-team coach Mark Rudan, who invited him to train with the big boys in March.

Rudan then went one step further by including Waine on the bench for an A-League match against the Newcastle Jets and bringing on the lifelong Phoenix fan for the closing stages of the 4-1 win.

"I’d been asked to come in and warm up with the team a couple of weeks before I made my debut so I just assumed I’d be doing the same this time - just warm up, get changed and then watch the game from the stands," Waine explains.

"But I came back in and [assistant coach] Chris Greenacre came over and said I was on the bench. There was a big smile on my face and I just couldn’t believe it. For David Williams to score a hat-trick and for me to make my debut, it couldn’t have gone any better."

That early introduction to the rigours of senior professional football has helped Waine step up to the international stage. His Phoenix experiences may in fact prove crucial as, such is the rapid rate of his rise, he did not have any appearances at the younger U-17 age-group to draw upon before stepping into the U-20 environment.

"I was a bit nervous at the start but getting in that game against Korea Republic has definitely helped settle them a bit," he says of joining up with coach Des Buckingham’s pre-World Cup camp in Gniewino, Poland.

"It’s been a really high standard but I think being in and out with the Phoenix back home has really helped me adjust to it, otherwise I think it would have been a bit of a struggle to get used to."

Waine and his team mates will have another opportunity to get to grips with the quality of opposition they will face in Group C when they meet Mexico on Saturday morning (NZT) in their final friendly hit-out before the tournament.

"We had a lot of chances against Korea Republic and definitely could have won the game," he says.

"So I think just being more clinical would be a really big improvement for us and could help us get a result against Mexico."

New Zealand will begin their FIFA U-20 World Cup campaign on 25 May (NZT) against Honduras at Lublin Stadium.

FIFA U-20 World Cup

Honduras vs New Zealand

Saturday 25 May, 4am NZT

Lublin Stadium, Lublin

Live on SKY Sport

Norway vs New Zealand

Tuesday 28 May, 6.30am NZT

Lodz Stadium, Lodz

Live on SKY Sport

New Zealand vs Uruguay

Friday 31 May, 4am NZT

Lodz Stadium, Lodz

Live on SKY Sport

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