New Zealand men hoping history repeats at Fifa Under-20 World Cup

Darren Bazeley has challenged his under-20s team to make history for the second World Cup in a row.
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Darren Bazeley has challenged his under-20s team to make history for the second World Cup in a row.

As they begin their World Cup campaign, the New Zealand men's under-20 football team are looking to go better than before.

It's a well-worn mantra in sporting circles, but it is within this team's grasp, and coach Darren Bazeley has put it to them as a challenge.

Two years ago, his men made history on home soil, winning a match for the first time at this level (5-1 over Myanmar), and advancing to the round of 16, where they were knocked out by Portugal, and a wonder goal from Gelson Martins.

Auckland City's Clayton Lewis will captain the under-20s in South Korea.
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Auckland City's Clayton Lewis will captain the under-20s in South Korea.

"That last group made history," said Bazeley, who has given his side a goal of going at least one stage further.

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"So that's a big challenge for this group, but that is what we're setting ourselves. Our expectation is to go as far as we can, and to try to make the country proud again."

Myer Bevan received a boost on the eve of the tournament when he signed his first professional deal.
SHANE WENZLICK/PHOTOTEK.NZ

Myer Bevan received a boost on the eve of the tournament when he signed his first professional deal.

In the leadup to the last event, Bazeley spent the best part of two years with his domestic-based players, who came together under the Wanderers SC banner to compete in the national league.

But this time around, without the incentive of playing in their own backyard, it's been a different story. There have been a handful of camps, and last year's Oceania championships, but the bulk of the buildup for the World Cup in South Korea began at the start of this month, when slightly less than 30 hopefuls gathered in Auckland.

A week later, they were whittled down to 21, and off to China, where they had warmup matches against Mexico (a 2-0 loss), and a local club side (a 4-1 win).

Bazeley said it was a case of using their limited time together to the greatest extent possible. 

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"We've been feeding them all this information over the past year, on our style of play, and our culture, and our habits, and keeping all the potential players around the world connected, and then when they came into camp at the start of the month, it was a real high-intensity crash course."

​On Monday night, the under-20s begin their campaign with a match against Vietnam, one of the weakest opponents any New Zealand men's age-group team has ever faced. Bazeley and co are by no means taking them lightly, but a win in that match will open the group right up - four points was enough to advance two years ago, and they would only be one away.

On the flipside, anything other than a win will make progression difficult. Honduras await in their second match, and are by no means unbeatable - they lost to Fiji two years ago - but they are followed by France, who are European champions at this level, and the heavy favourites to take out the title.

With All Whites coach Anthony Hudson's vision of alignment now in full effect, the under-20s are likely to mirror the senior team's preference for a 3-5-2 formation, and their high-pressing gameplan.

Five of Hudson's All Whites will be in South Korea, with midfielder Clayton Lewis captaining the under-20s, and Moses Dyer, Logan Rogerson, Henry Cameron and Dane Ingham joining him. Their familiarity with the system will be a boost for the side, as will their experience.

And for some of them, and potentially some of their uncapped teammates, there's also a chance to impress the senior coach, who will be naming his squad for the Confederations Cup on June 8, and might have room for a bolter or two yet.

AT A GLANCE

2017 Fifa Under-20 World Cup - New Zealand squad 

Goalkeepers: Michael Woud, Cameron Brown, Conor Tracey
Defenders: Dane Ingham, Sean Liddicoat, Luke Johnson, Hunter Ashworth, Reese Cox, Jack-Henry Sinclair
Midfielders: James McGarry, Connor Probert, Moses Dyer, Joe Bell, Clayton Lewis (c), Callum McCowatt, Sarpreet Singh, Henry Cameron
Forwards: Noah Billingsley, Myer Bevan, Logan Rogerson, Lucas Imrie

Fixtures (All NZ time)
May 22, 11pm, v Vietnam
May 25, 11pm, v Honduras
May 28, 6pm, v France  

 - Stuff

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