All Whites defender Liberato Cacace, who celebrated his 19th birthday last Friday in Suva at the same time when New Zealand U-23 team have sealed Group A honours with a hard fought victory over the Solomon Islands, would love nothing more than to cap a memorable few days by beating hosts Fiji in Wednesday’s semi-final at the OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifier in Lautoka’s Churchill Park.
One of four Wellington Phoenix representatives in Des Buckingham’s squad, the young fullback had a remarkable 12 months after playing almost every game for his A-League club as well as receiving a call-up to the senior national side and helping the U-20s team reach the last 16 at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland before claiming the Young Men’s Player of the Year at the New Zealand Football Awards in July.
Despite his tender age Cacace has plenty of experience on the global stage dating back to the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India, and qualification for next year’s Tokyo Games would be another major achievement on his growing resume.
“It’s big you know everyone wants to go to the Olympics and doing it with these special group of players, I think it would be very special,” he said.
“Definitely, you know football is not the only sports played at the Olympics and I think it would be good experience for me on and off the pitch, added the Kiwi defender.
Part of Des Buckingham’s tight-knit team, Cacace is enjoying every minute with his teammates on and off the field.
“It’s a really good culture here and moral, you know the boys here have been going from strength to strength and we have been working really hard on the culture,” he explained.
With the New Zealand players fully focussed on booking their place in the Tokyo Olympics, their next assignment against Fiji can’t come soon enough for Cacace.
“You know obviously you want to win this tournament and I think it’s a great opportunity to go to Tokyo for the Olympic and I think this is the great way to do it, hopeful in front of a packed crowd and a good match.
“Fiji has a great crowd, great atmosphere and we had the last Group game against Solomon Island and there was a great atmosphere there and hopefully we get the same tomorrow,” said the young fullback.