With New Zealand’s first three opponents in the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup now determined, George Debenham has taken a unique approach in his preparations, jumping at an opportunity to join Papua New Guinea’s Lae City Dwellers in the 2017 OFC Champions League.
“I play with a Papua New Guinean at Western Springs and he said there might be an opportunity for me to play in the Champions League,” he said.
“I said I was keen so he said ‘Cool, so do you want to get on a plane for a pre-tournament tour of Fiji’, and I said yes. It kind of just happened.
“I was a bit sceptical at the start, I didn’t know how it was going to be, didn’t know if I’d fit in, but it’s been a really cool competition and a really cool experience.”
Drawn in a tough groups for both competitions, the New Zealand U-20 player believes the experience playing against Solomon Islands’ Western United, Vanuatu’s Malampa Revivors, and New Zealand’s Auckland City in the region’s premier club tournament will give him a good taste of international football ahead of the World Cup clashes against Vietnam, Honduras, and France in May.
“I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to play at this level with these guys. It’s a high level and these guys are almost worshipped in Papua New Guinea. Half the squad is in the Papua New Guinea national team,” he said.
“There’s so many good players around and different teams from different countries are doing really well and I think the overall quality of the competition has gone up.”
Lae City Dwellers’ style of play is definitely new to Debenham, but the 20-year-old believes he has become a more versatile player after learning their combinations and adapting to the Papua New Guinean style of play.
“It’s a bit frantic defensively, there’s not as much structure, but going forward they are a bit more on the same wave length, the attacking players are really in sync,” he said.
“There’s a lot more freedom to play and I think it suits me a lot better because I’m a bit frantic myself, and I think that’s why I’m fitting in well here.”
Debenham is hopeful that his experience with Lae City Dwellers will give him a unique edge to help him stand out in team selection and secure him a place in the New Zealand line-up when the U-20’s travel to South Korea.
“I know we have the potential to do well in the World Cup but my goal is to just make the squad first,” he said.
“There’s so many good players that good make the squad and if I can get my name picked then I’ll be really happy.”
With May fast approaching, the Lae City Dwellers winger has one more OFC Champions League match against Western United before he switches back to preparation for Korea, and Debenham is determined to finish with a win.
“We watched most of their games and they won’t be easy, they kept Auckland City out until the last few minutes, but we feel like we can take them,” he said.