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