The FIFA U-20 World Cup is set to kick off this week in Poland and the New Zealand U-20 men’s team will take winning form into their opening match of the tournament after earning a confidence-boosting 3-1 triumph over Mexico on Saturday morning (NZT).
Des Buckingham’s side, drawn in Group C alongside Honduras, Norway and Uruguay, have been based in the rural Polish village of Gniewino for the past fortnight, where they have been putting the finishing touches to their World Cup preparations.
That came to a head with the clash against Mexico, which provided Buckingham with one last opportunity to run the rule over his troops before they take part in one of the biggest football tournaments on the planet.
They responded in pleasing fashion, Wellington Phoenix midfielder Sarpreet Singh notching a double while Eastern Suburbs striker Callum McCowatt also got on the scoresheet.
It is the second positive result in quick succession for the side after a 1-1 draw against Korea Republic in their other pre-World Cup friendly a week ago.
“I thought the performance was very good,” said a satisfied Buckingham.
“We asked them to replicate and build on the performance against the Korea Republic and they certainly started the game as they finished it last week. They also really added some components that we’ve worked on this week. They deservedly got the result and it was a pleasure to watch some of the football we played.”
Buckingham felt his side had enough chances to win that earlier match against Korea Republic and had called for more ruthlessness in front of goal in the Mexico encounter.
“Of course, the external result is always going to be the main aim but we need to measure ourselves internally and they set themselves some targets that we wanted to hit. I’m pleased to say they hit every one of them,” he said.
“One of those was chances on goal and then the conversion rates of those chances. It was pleasing to see three goals go in and we had other chances as well, one off the post in the first half and one that just skimmed the outside of the post in the second. So it was a good improvement in that area and that will be important when we move into the group stages of the World Cup next week.”
As expected from an opposition of such quality, fellow World Cup team Mexico had their moments but Buckingham was pleased with how their threats were handled.
“Mexico are a very good team and finished runners-up in the CONCACAF competition, finishing second only to the USA,” he said.
“I thought they provided an excellent challenge for us and certainly had spells in the game where they were on top. But overall I was happy with how we played, the players believed they were capable of competing well against the quality of Mexico and stuck to playing the type of football we want to play throughout the game,” he added.
“It’s a great way to finish what’s been a really good few weeks together.”
With young All Whites goalkeeper Michael Woud now having arrived in Poland on the back of his campaign in the Dutch top flight with Willem II, the squad is at full strength ahead of travelling to New Zealand’s first World Cup stop of Lublin.
They will take on Honduras in their opening match of the FIFA U-20 World Cup on 25 May (NZT).
FIFA U-20 World Cup
Honduras vs New Zealand
Saturday 25 May, 4am NZT
Lublin Stadium, Lublin
Norway vs New Zealand
Tuesday 28 May, 6.30am NZT
Lodz Stadium, Lodz
New Zealand vs Uruguay
Friday 31 May, 4am NZT
Lodz Stadium, Lodz