Photo Credit: Fédération Calédonienne de Football

The 2023 FIFA U-17 World Cup™ kicks off in Indonesia this weekend, with two OFC representatives preparing to take on the world’s best.

Having been victorious in the OFC U-17 Championship 2023 earlier this year, New Zealand’s reward for qualifying was a place in a daunting Group F, alongside Germany, Mexico and their opening match day opponents, Venezuela.

New Caledonia finished runner-up to the Kiwis in Fiji in January and have arguably been given an even more challenging assignment in Group C. Alongside Iran, they will face off against the past two FIFA U-17 World Cup winners, Brazil and England respectively.

New Caledonia Head Coach Leo Lopez is looking forward to the challenge of a World Cup for his side and feels fortunate that the squad have been able to spend a considerable amount of time together in preparation for the campaign.

“We are lucky to have the FCF Academy, where about 70% of our players have come from and know each other well. We also had a week-long training camp in Auckland in August, where we had two friendly matches against New Zealand-based teams as preparation,” Lopez explained.

As with any age-grade competition, Lopez is conscious of ensuring that his squad benefit from both the experience of participating in a World Cup and giving a good account of themselves on the field.

“The objective is to combine two things – the human adventure and experience but also to show the world that we know how to play football in New Caledonia.

“The important thing is to learn as much as possible from this competition, to raise our level to what is required and to ensure we grow for the future”, he continued.

New Caledonia’s opening fixture on Saturday night (NZT) is against 2017 U-17 World Champions England and Lopez is aware of just how big a challenge the European powerhouse will present for his team.

“They’re a team which is athletic and powerful, with players from some of the best clubs in the English Premier League, who are used to playing at a high level. They were champions in 2017 and their teams are always very impressive.

“Being at this World Cup creates real enthusiasm for New Caledonian football and is a source of pride for everyone involved in the development and journey of these young players. It also represents the hard work and success of the FCF Academy and is reward for the investment that has been made in clubs across the country.”

New Caledonia U-17 side during preparations for their opening match at the 2023 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Indonesia. Photo Credit: Fédération Calédonienne de Football

OFC U-17 Champions New Zealand kick-off their campaign on Sunday evening (NZT) against Venezuela, with challenging tests in the form of Germany and Mexico to follow in Group F.

Head Coach Martin Bullock spoke to OFC on the importance of ensuring his players learn and enjoy the experience of taking part in a FIFA World Cup, as well as focusing on the on-field action.

“It’s all fantastic learning for the players. There’s quite a few of them that have done some media, they’ve had their videos and photos taken by FIFA. They’ve had FIFA meetings and I think it’s all part of their development and helping them on their journey to become future All Whites,” Bullock said.

“When you’re so young, try and enjoy it as much as you can. Let’s not be dictated to by results. Results will be good, bad, indifferent, whatever they may be. We can obviously control lots of things but when we’re off the pitch and when we’re on the pitch, everything we do – let’s enjoy it.

“We’re here to try and help players and staff become All Whites of the future. If we do get out the group, if we do get to a final, we just see that as more international experience for the players and more exposure for them,” he continued.

New Zealand U-17 international Marley Leuluai signs his first professional contract with English Premier League club Burnley FC. Photo Credit: Burnley FC

More news out of the New Zealand camp was the announcement that exciting Kiwi-Samoan midfielder Marley Leuluai has signed his first professional contract with English Premier League side, Burnley FC. Bullock is excited for Leuluai’s development and what being in a Premier League club environment can bring in terms of the player’s education.

“Yeah, he’d obviously been at Manchester City for quite some time and great education, great learnings from Manchester City that he can bring into our environment.

“We’ve got two other European-based players in our group (West Bromwich Albion’s Noah DuPont and Stoke City’s Adam Watson) who also bring huge experience and potentially experiences that our New Zealand and Australian-based players don’t possess because just because of the different environment, so yeah, he’s a really important player for us,” Bullock explained.

2023 FIFA U-17 World Cup™
Match Day 1

Group C
New Caledonia v England
Saturday, November 11th – 10:00pm (NZT)

Group F
Venezuela v New Zealand
Sunday, November 12th – 10:00pm (NZT