(Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek – NZ v Fiji OFC U-19 Championship Final 2022)
OFC qualifiers New Zealand and Fiji begin their campaigns at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina tomorrow morning.
The Junior All Whites face Guatemala in Group A at the Santiago del Estero Stadium on Sunday morning (6am NZT) with Fiji to play their Group B opener against Slovakia at (9am Fiji time) in San Juan.
Canada coach John Herdman’s son Jay shapes as a key figure in Darren Bazeley’s New Zealand side having declared his allegiance to New Zealand despite having moved to Canada at the age of eight.
“New Zealand is a special place for me, ”Herdman told FIFA.com “If I grew up in Canada, it might be different, but my childhood was in New Zealand. It means a lot to me.”
Herdman who plays for the Vancouver Whitecaps is a creative midfielder and is currently a key player for Whitecaps 2, the club’s reserve team.
Herdman was part of the New Zealand squad that won last year’s OFC U-19 Championship, a tournament where they scored 33 goals without conceding, beating Fiji 3-0 in the final.
New Zealand is aiming to progress past the last 16 at the U-20 World Cup for the first time.
“Firstly, we have to get out of the group stage, “That’s a really big goal. If we can win our first game, that will put us in good shape. I feel we have a good chance against Guatemala. Uzbekistan look really good but I feel we can beat them. Then there’s Argentina, and we’ll see what happens there.” Herdman told FIFA.com
New Zealand warmed up for the tournament this week with a 1-0 win over 2019 semi-finalists Ecuador with Wellington Phoenix’s Ben Wallace scoring the winner in the 71st minute.
Coach Darren Bazeley says it’s a crucial first game for his side.
“The first game is vital, it’s really important, as every coach always says, you go into a tournament, you’ve got to do well in your first game and get some points on the board… Guatemala knocked out Mexico and Canada, I don’t think there are any easy games. Our main aim is to put on performances that make people proud and we want to win football matches.”
Fiji has been in San Juan for the past five days preparing for the match against the European side and they face further matches against the USA and Ecuador.
Team Manager Kartik Reddy told the Fiji Football Association the side has settled in well and have adapted to the local weather and environment.
“Since arriving in Argentina, the team has been well-received by our hosts, and we have thoroughly enjoyed the experience so far,” said Reddy. “The boys are settling in well, and they have been adjusting to the weather and the new surroundings.”
Coach Robert Mimms says the squad is in upbeat mood.
“The team is in good spirits, and we are excited about the tournament. We have a focused approach to our training, and the players are committed to giving their best on the field, The first match against Slovakia is crucial, and we are leaving no stone unturned in our preparations.” Mimms said.