Junior All Whites aim to surprise on big stage
The Junior All Whites are hoping to be the beneficiaries of some Uzbekistani complacency when their under-20 World Cup campaign opens on Monday.
New Zealand meet Uzbekistan, Uruguay and Croatia in pool play, with all three of their games in the northwestern Turkish city of Bursa.
The Chris Milicich-coached side look reasonably strong on paper, including All Whites Tim Payne and Cameron Howieson and Phoenix duo Louis Fenton and Tyler Boyd.
But the Kiwis struggled in their warmup games, losing 5-0 to Australia, 5-3 to Iraq and 2-1 to Egypt.
Milicich yesterday said the squad remained confident, and was cagey about giving away his likely selections and formation for the first game.
"I don't think I'm going to tell you that because the Uzbekistanis have done no work on us whatsoever and I'm being very careful not to release anything to anyone. They were asking Fifa today for footage of our games so it says to me they've done hardly any work on us. Which is surprising but we'll take that, that's for sure. The only thing I'll say is we'll play four at the back."
Temperatures peaked at 36 degrees Celsius in Bursa yesterday, although Milicich expected a more suitable 24-26C for the late afternoon match starts.
He admitted the losses to Australia and Iraq had exposed his side, although the competitive showing against African champions Egypt gave him hope.
"I thought against Egypt we were very good for long periods of time but we got caught on the classic counter-attack. The team, I think, is in good shape and is going to give itself a chance to get some results. There's some trepidation about what they're going to face but that may not be a bad thing."
Uzbekistan may be taking New Zealand lightly but Milicich has done plenty of homework on all three of his opponents.
The Uzbekistanis were "physical athletes" with strong team spirit who would press high and counter-attack at pace.
Uruguay finished below New Zealand in the 2011 tournament and "they weren't very happy about that then, and they're not very happy about it now".
England beat Uruguay 3-0 in a warmup game but Milicich had spoken to English coach Peter Taylor, who said that scoreline was misleading.
Croatia were a "very tall, big, solid, physical side".
Milicich felt three points would be enough to progress as one of the third-placed qualifiers but four would be required to finish in the top two.
He had asked his professional players to set high standards for the amateurs to follow and had big raps on captain Luke Adams of Derby County.
"Luke was playing national league for Waitakere United at a very young age. He's obviously gone off to Derby and has developed further as a player. He's tall, a 6'2, 6'3 centre back, and he's a great leader of men. He's come back from a pretty serious knee injury which he's recovered fully from. But he brings a really strong mental component to the game as well as a personality that the other players gravitate to. He's going to be a big part in what we do in this tournament."
Turkey will be crawling with scouts and Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick will also be watching closely as he looks to round out his squad.
Sky TV confirmed yesterday that it would show all of New Zealand's games.
New Zealand schedule (all games NZ time and live on Sky Sport 2)
Monday, 2am: v Uzbekistan
Thursday, 3am: v Uruguay
June 30, 3am v Croatia
Junior All Whites: Scott Basalaj, Storm Roux, Bill Tuiloma, Simon Arms, Luke Adams (c), Tom Biss, Cameron Howieson, Tim Payne, Hamish Watson, Tyler Boyd, Louis Fenton, Alec Solomons, Liam Higgins, Jesse Edge, Justin Gulley, Van Elia, Ryan Thomas, Rhys Jordan, Dale Higham, Max Crocombe, Daniel Clarke
The Dominion Post