OPINION: On a balmy Hamilton afternoon in October 2008 a team of Japanese schoolgirls turned on what is colloquially termed a football clinic. In a women's under-17 World Cup match they tore their French rivals apart and won 7-1.
The first-half demolition job, which saw Japan score six times, was the finest technical display of the Beautiful Game a supporter could have wished for.
Many of those at Waikato Stadium thought they were seeing the side which would go on to win the cup. But football being football, the Japanese didn't even make the semifinal. By the time North Korea were crowned champions Japan were long gone, and more than 200,000 spectators had attended games.
Seven years on in 2015, New Zealand will host the under-20 men's version of the tournament. It will feature 24 teams, 52 games and draw a television audience estimated at more than 400 million across 200 countries. That's more than the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
If we are fortunate, countries with significant populations in New Zealand and Australia - such as Greece and one or two Koreas - will qualify. Similarly, the appearance of a British team or Eire will ensure a bonus crowd.
The tournament will be held in June and July so, unlike its 2008 counterpart, it will not be staged on hot summer days. Weather, and the teams on show, may play a significant role in crowd numbers, but it will be a certain winner in terms of TV audiences overseas.
New Plymouth is one of nine cities vying to host games and it continued to make its pitch when delegates from Fifa visited Yarrow Stadium on Tuesday.
The tournament will benefit from the infrastructure investments made for, and the lessons learned from, the rugby World Cup. The 13 centres which hosted matches during that tournament were asked to bid for the young football equivalent. If Fifa opts to make use of stadiums in the country's four largest centres for pools, then Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Hamilton appear certainties. It would leave New Plymouth in a race with Dunedin, Nelson, Napier and Whangarei for the remaining two slots, not counting matches from the quarter-final stage on.
Given the success of the Rugby World Cup here, it is no surprise New Plymouth has now turned its attention to football. Council and Venture Taranaki officials will have been delighted to see Yarrow Stadium bathed in sunshine as the lawnmower cut very football-like crisscrosses into the grass this week.
Dunedin politicians have questioned the return on investment should they host games, and have suggested initial costs would be $1 million. Christchurch, conversely, puts costs at $400,000 and believes every dollar invested will generate spending of up to $30.
If New Plymouth is successful, it could expect to get a pool and host four teams. That, and the international publicity, will be a bonus for business and tourism.
The city's investment in the latest Festival of Lights and Tropfest was well received by the community. A successful bid for top flight football would be another feather in New Plymouth's hat.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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