As one of three FIFA U-20 World Cup veterans in the New Zealand squad, Noah Billingsley is looking to draw on his past experiences when Darren Bazeley’s men kick off their campaign at Korea Republic 2017 tonight.
Billingsley will be joined in facing Vietnam by All Whites midfield pair Clayton Lewis and Moses Dyer – the other two survivors from the New Zealand-hosted 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup – and believes the inside knowledge of that trio will prove hugely beneficial.
“I’m going to know what to expect now and, being one of the older guys as well, I need to be a role model for the younger ones,” he said.
“That knowledge of what it’s actually going to be like will be really valuable.”
A key learning for Billingsley from his previous World Cup campaign was the need to put the tournament into perspective and treat it no differently than any other challenge.
“The main thing I took away from last time is to remember that it’s just another game. It’s on a bigger stage than normal but you just need to take a deep breath and relax,” he said.
“We just need to play like we know we can – there’s no need to change just because it’s on TV or there’s a bigger crowd. You just need to keep it simple really.”
The New Zealand players dealt with the occasion well two years ago, becoming the nation’s first side to progress past the group stages at U-20 level, and that past success leaves the current crop with some sizeable shoes to fill.
Billingsley says he and his team mates are happy to bear that burden though and is confident in the ability of the squad to at least match the achievements of 2015.
“We do feel that pressure but it’s a good type of pressure. It was great making history last time but we don’t want to just settle on that and get complacent,” he said.
“The talent in this group is definitely enough to push us over that edge and make history again. The last squad was really good but this one’s just as good, if not better.”
It’s certainly not a group lacking in top-level experience with senior international Lewis and Dyer joined by fellow full All Whites Dane Ingham, Henry Cameron and Logan Rogerson. Like all others in the U-20 line-up, Billingsley has aspirations to follow in their footsteps and says there is much to learn from the All Whites contingent.
“Their work ethic is the biggest one – that’s why they’re All Whites,” he said.
“Just watching how they play and how they act – not just on the field but everything they do off the field as well. Having them around is going to be really good for the team.”
Still only 19, Billingsley was a raw 17-year-old at the last U-20 World Cup two years ago, when he was the youngest member of the squad and scored New Zealand’s first goal of the tournament in a crucial 5-1 win over Myanmar. He feels he needs to continue marrying improved technique with his considerable natural attributes to step up to a higher level.
“I think I’m quite physical which is definitely useful but I need to work on linking up with certain players and other technical things. That will definitely help me progress onto the next stage because I’m there physically, I just have to keep pushing on technically.”
The Wellington native is now based at the University of California, Santa Barbara – the same school former All White Tony Lochhead and current New Zealand international Michael Boxall attended – and feels he is in an ideal environment to hone his skills further.
“I’m doing my best to juggle playing with study but am really enjoying it,” he said.
“It’s a very physical game over there and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown not only physically but mentally as well, which should definitely help for this coming World Cup.”
Story courtesy of New Zealand Football