Handing Clayton Lewis the captain’s armband for the OFC U-20 Championship in Vanuatu has become one of NZ U-20 coach Darren Bazeley’s proudest decisions of the tournament.
The New Zealand All Whites midfielder, who was a standout for Auckland City FC as they won the OFC Champions League title in April, has led from the front as skipper in the first two games and is imparting his international experience onto his team-mates.
“Clayton has been great,” said Bazeley.
“We made him captain and he is thriving on that extra responsibility. He is passing on his experience to the players in the squad who haven’t competed much at this level and he is leading from the front,” he added.
It has been a great comeback to international football for Lewis who was suspended earlier this year when an excessive amount of Salbutamol (Ventolin) was found in his system.
“He has obviously gone through some disappointments this year but we know that he is a very, very good player and has a great attitude,” Bazeley said.
“He has put in two good performances and was superb against Tahiti. He scored a very good goal to put us in front which was important.
“We have some experienced players around him and the team is tracking well.”
The New Zealand team have already qualified for the semi-finals of the OFC U-20 Championship and sit at the top of Group B, but are turning their focus to their final game of the group round against the Solomon Islands.
After their dominance against Cook Islands and Tahiti, Bazeley believes the Solomon Islands will be a tough challenge for the New Zealand team.
“They offer something a little bit different,” he said.
“They are unstructured, unpredictable and are a dangerous side. We will be preparing the same. We will recover well and then look to build on what we have achieved so far,” he added.
Bazeley believes the OFC U-20 Championship has been a great experience for the entire team and they are enjoying the challenge of competing in tough conditions.
“Our lads are doing everything they can to be successful here. Since we got together I have been most impressed with their attitudes and what we are trying to achieve by winning this tournament and make the World Cup and they are giving themselves every chance.”
Group B action concludes on Saturday with Solomon Islands playing New Zealand at noon (1pm NZ time) before the Cook Islands face Tahiti at 3pm.