After claiming first and second at the OFC U-17 Championship in Tahiti earlier this year, New Zealand and New Caledonia are both eager to add more to the history books at the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 this October.
Breaking new ground and becoming the nation’s first ever national team to qualify for a FIFA competition, New Caledonia are feeling confident about impressing the world on their debut despite their tough draw against Honduras, Japan and France.
After taking over the coaching role for Michel Clarque – who is now the general manager of the team – New Caledonia Football Federation Technical Director Dominique Wacalie has been preparing the team for the past six months and is excited to showcase New Caledonia’s talent on the world stage.
“New Caledonian football, it’s the king’s game. Everyone plays it here. It is played even in the most remote villages. We play everywhere, on the beach, on any piece of land, before going to church, in the smallest of spaces! Every generation plays,” he said.
“It is with great pride that we can represent New Caledonian football in this global tournament and to accompany these young footballers who will be living their dreams.
“We are trying to prepare the best we can, we have no idea of the level which awaits us. We only know that the players we are going to face will be the future stars of the biggest European clubs.”
New Zealand’s fresh-faced U-17 team are feeling confident about replicating New Zealand’s success at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015 and reaching the Round of 16 but coach Danny Hay is well aware that their three group stage opponents will be strong competition.
“It is going to be tough, I am not going to lie,” he said.
“You only need to look at European qualifying, South American qualifying and the African qualifying to recognise that we have three very good teams here.
“Mali didn’t lose at all, Paraguay in South America only lost once from 12 games and the Turks only lost to England and Spain who were the two top teams. It is going to be difficult but a good challenge.”
Despite the difficult task awaiting them in India, Hay is looking forward to seeing his team of FIFA competition debutants get their first chance in the spotlight.
“These guys have the chance to go to a World Cup. These sorts of opportunities are few and far between for young New Zealand players,” he said.
“We don’t get to experience true international football and playing against world-class opposition too often and we have a group of top young men who are outstanding characters so we are looking forward to getting them up there to see what they can achieve.”
New Caledonia has been drawn in Group E and will play France on 8 October* and Honduras on 11 October* at Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati before travelling to Kolkata to play Japan at Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium on 14 October*.
Drawn in Group B, New Zealand will play Turkey on 6 October* and Paraguay on 9 October* at Dr. DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai before travelling to New Delhi to play Mali at Jawaharial Nehru Stadium on 12 October*.
*All dates are local time.