History has already been created by New Zealand at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic but Darren Bazeley and his side are not content to stop there. Their sights are firmly set on breathing the rarefied air of the quarter-finals – which no other group of Kiwis have managed to do before them.
Bazeley has made a habit of writing himself into the record books in this tournament after becoming the first man to take a New Zealand team past the group stages two years ago on home soil and adding a further milestone in the current edition as his charges again made it to the knockout rounds – the first from their country to achieve that feat on foreign shores.
The next watershed moment will arrive if New Zealand can venture even further than the Round of 16, qualification for which in itself is hugely impressive given the nation’s standing amongst the world footballing elite.
Standing in the way is the might of the USA and, while the Americans will undoubtedly go into tonight’s tie as hot favourites, Bazeley believes the New Zealand squad has it in them to pull off what would be a major shock.
New Zealand U-20 coach Darren Bazeley
“They’re a very good team and it will be another big challenge for us,” he says.
“They topped their group and won the CONCACAF championship so the expectation will be on them. They’re a team full of professional players and are organised, athletic, strong and technically very good,” he adds.
“But I think we’re in a good place and it’s a good game for us, we’re looking to go out there and try to make people proud of this team.”
Bazeley and the only two survivors from the 2015 squad – newly-named captain Moses Dyer and rangy striker Noah Billingsley – need little reminding of the quality of the USA after suffering a 4-0 humbling at American hands in the group stages of the previous tournament. They will see tonight’s clash in Incheon as the chance to claim some revenge and will take heart from the fact that their opponents will not be at full strength.
While New Zealand are also without the services of a couple of key figures in Clayton Lewis and Dane Ingham – both called up to be part of the senior All Whites squad for the pre-Confederations Cup tour – the USA have some significant absences of their own with Arsenal midfielder Gedion Zelalem out injured and Tottenham Hotspur defender Cameron Carter-Vickers missing through suspension, as are Aaron Herrera and Derrick Jones.
It was left to eventual champions Serbia to knock the USA out last time and if New Zealand can follow in those footsteps then one of the most memorable events in the history of the sport in this country will have occurred.
“We need to make sure we stay concentrated, disciplined, organised, work together and have that team spirit – if we get everything right on the day then we need a few players to have some quality moments. If we get that then we have a chance,” Bazeley says.
There have already been plenty of cases of individual brilliance from certain players, particularly the likes of Myer Bevan – scorer of two goals in the 3-1 win over Honduras – and Sunderland goalkeeper Michael Woud, who put in an inspired performance in the 2-0 defeat against favourites France with a string of outstanding saves.
Bazeley expects many more to come from a group that is one of the youngest at the tournament.
“Across the whole squad we’ve had good moments – we just need consistency and to know exactly what we’re going to get from each player,” he says.
“We’ve got a lot of youth and finished against France, who could potentially be the world champions, with three players in midfield born in 1999. Along with Michael, they could go on and play in the next U-20 World Cup. We have a team that’s competing well right now but we’re also developing players for future squads and having others moving on to the All Whites – I think that’s great for New Zealand football.”
— New Zealand Football (@NZ_Football) June 1, 2017
United States vs New Zealand
FIFA U-20 World Cup, Round of 16
Thursday 1 June, 11pm (NZ time)
Incheon Football Stadium, Korea Republic
Live on SKY Sport
New Zealand (from): 1. Michael Woud (GK), 3. Sean Liddicoat, 4. Luke Johnson, 5. Hunter Ashworth, 6. Joe Bell, 7. Connor Probert, 8. Moses Dyer (c), 9. Noah Billingsley, 11. Henry Cameron, 12. Cameron Brown (GK), 13. James McGarry, 14. Jack-Henry Sinclair, 15. Reese Cox, 16. Callum McCowatt, 17. Logan Rogerson, 18. Sarpreet Singh, 19. Myer Bevan, 20. Lucas Imrie, 21. Conor Tracey (GK)
Coach: Darren Bazeley