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Milicich: "We aren't too far off"

Junior All Whites coach Chris Milicich speaks to nzfootball.co.nz about the national side's preparation for the OFC U-20 Championship in Fiji this March.

Chris Milicich (FIFA via Getty)

February 1, 2013

AUCKLAND Ė A Junior All Whites selection was defeated by the Wellington Phoenix 'A' side 5-1 at Fred Taylor Park this week in Auckland as Chris Milicich's preparations for the OFC U-20 Championship continue.

The U-20's have held training camps for identified players in October and January and took the opportunity for a midweek practice match with New Zealandís only professional franchise as the Phoenix build up to their A-League match with Perth Glory at Eden Park.

"It was an opportunity for us to have a look at some upper-North Island players in a competitive match against difficult opposition, and to be brutally honest the performance was poor," said Milicich.

The 'Nix were comprised of the franchise's A-League squad players, Football School of Excellence players and a sprinkling of the most promising players from Darren Bazeley's Northern-based U-17s who are currently playing in the ASB Youth League.

But rather than dwell on the loss Milicich saw the positive side of the result.

"I think it emphasised to the coaching staff that we aren't too far off with the players we have cleared and want to have involved come March," said a forthright Milicich.

With the majority of players likely to come from overseas and the potential talent at his disposal, New Zealand will likely enter the tournament as favourites.

He has a number of players in professional environments including the likes of senior internationals Tim Payne (Blackburn Rovers) and Cameron Howieson (Burnley).  The All Whites pair could be joined by their former age group teammates Luke Adams (Derby County) and Bill Tuiloma, who is currently on trial at Fortuna Sittard in Holland.

Wellington Phoenix youngsters Louis Fenton and Tyler Boyd are both eligible for selection as is Storm Roux who recently made his debut for Perth Glory in the A-League.  Meanwhile, Kade Schrijvers and Van Elia turned out for the Wellington Phoenix 'A' side.

The Phoenix match confirmed the difficulties of blending a team in a short space of time, a problem Milicich is likely to face when his side comes together in March.

"It's exciting given the calibre of player we can call on, but on the other side of the coin the team doesnít get together often.  Last night was an example of that and we looked like a side that hadn't been together a lot and paid the price."

For the first time in two U-20 cycles the OFC Championship will be held outside of New Zealand with Fiji the venue for the five-team tournament.   The winner of the eight day league format tournament will qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey later this year.

Milicich is no stranger to taking sides to play within the Oceania region and is well aware of the challenge it presents.

"With the format and a 20-man squad everyone has to play, there's little opportunity for development, just results.

"It's no secret how hard it is in the islands, it's not the same as here, the heat, the pitches, the facilities, it's a totally different environment.  Itís not entirely foreign though, weíre starting to have boys that have played in the islands at age group level or with their club sides."

The former Waitakere United boss will lean on accumulated knowledge to combat the pressures.

"I hope our players have learned from their experiences in the conditions, especially following the advice of our experts about hydration, food, sleep and recovery.

"We're going to play four games in eight days, we're going to be fatigued, we've just got to dig in and keep going.

"I think boredom can kick in at times, and maybe the players switch off a little because they're out of sight from parents, friends and family."

Joining the Junior All Whites will be the hosts Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu, all of whom pose a threat to New Zealandís favourites tag.  Tahiti was the last side to score an upset at U-20 level when they qualified on home soil for the World Cup in 2009.

"There are no easy games in the draw, and I have no doubt Fiji will be strong at home.  Any of the teams could have a player emerge like Benjamin Totori and Roy Krishna have done in the past so we have to be vigilant."

Milicich will name his 20-man squad in the middle of February, with the group coming together for a preparation camp a week prior to the OFC U-20 Championship which is scheduled for March 20 to 27 at Lautoka in Fiji.

The FIFA U-20 World Cup will be held in Turkey from June 21 to July 13.

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