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NZF: U-20s hoping lightning strikes twice

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The New Zealand U-20 men will be hoping lightning strikes twice when they open their FIFA U-20 World Cup campaign against Honduras in the early hours of Saturday morning (NZT).

The Central Americans are a familiar foe at this level after also clashing with New Zealand in the previous U-20 World Cup two years ago, in which the Kiwis triumphed 3-1.

Anything similar would do nicely for coach Des Buckingham and his team but he is fully aware of how tricky that could prove.

"Honduras will be very tough," he admits.

"They have some very good individual players and have come through the Concacaf qualification process which is a very tough one. But the attention is very much on us, we’ve had an 80/20 split where it’s 80 per cent focused on what we’re going to do and that’s very much the process we’ve taken over the past few weeks."

Captain Joe Bell is one of five players who were also involved in the 2017 squad, the others being Michael Woud, Cameron Brown, Callum McCowatt and Sarpreet Singh. The United States-based midfielder therefore already has a proven blueprint of how to overcome teams from Honduras but is taking nothing for granted.

"We’re expecting a difficult game because any game at this level is obviously going to be extremely hard," he says. "But we’re more focused on us and the game that we’re going to try to play. Hopefully, we can display the game style we want to and control the match from there."

New Zealand will kick off their campaign at Lublin Stadium, an impressive purpose-built facility that can house over 15,000 fans. The squad paid a visit to the venue earlier this week as the excitement levels began to hit fever pitch.

"These European stadiums are built as proper football stadiums so that makes it slightly different in terms of the atmosphere," Buckingham says. "Visiting the stadium gave the players a sense of what they’re about to go into which should help ease them into the game tomorrow."

With a week-long camp in Auckland followed by nearly three weeks in the rural Polish village of Gniewino, the Oceania champions have enjoyed an extensive build-up that included positive performances in friendlies against Korea Republic and Mexico.

"It’s meant we haven’t had to rush our preparation and have covered everything we wanted to," Buckingham says.

"We’ve got 21 players who have come from different environments so we’ve spent a lot of time, both on and off the pitch, looking at what we want to do, who we are and our identity around how we want to play. It’s just a case of sticking to what we’ve all agreed and that’s been evident in the two games we’ve played so far. Hopefully, we can now show that to people on the world stage."

Bell says spending so much time together in recent weeks has been invaluable, both from a footballing point of view and in fostering a strong team culture.

"A lot of work has gone in to get to the point where we are now," he says.

"It’s been extremely beneficial for the group as a whole, not only on the pitch but coming together as a team off it too. I think we’ve made a lot of good steps in our tactical understanding and cohesiveness as a group. So we’re looking forward to showing people what we can do tomorrow."

With those months of meticulous preparation now complete, Buckingham won’t feel the need to cram any last-minute instructions into the heads of his players.

"The message is simply to enjoy themselves and enjoy the football we’re looking to play. We want to show the world the type of players we have and, in order to do that, we need to get them on the ball and get them to express themselves."

Match Details

Honduras vs New Zealand

FIFA U-20 World Cup, Group C

Saturday 25 May, 4am NZT

Lublin Stadium, Lublin

Live on SKY Sport

New Zealand (from): 1. Michael Woud (GK), 2. George Stanger, 3. Dalton Wilkins, 4. Gianni Stensness, 5. Nando Pijnaker, 6. Dane Schnell, 7. Elijah Just, 8. Joe Bell (c), 9. Max Mata, 10. Sarpreet Singh, 11. Matt Conroy, 12. Cameron Brown (GK), 13. Liberato Cacace, 14. Leon van den Hoven, 15. Trevor Zwetsloot, 16. Dominic Wooldridge, 17. Callan Elliot, 18. Ben Waine, 19. Callum McCowatt, 20. Willem Ebbinge, 21. Zac Jones

Coach: Des Buckingham

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