Navi Mumbai: The moment has finally arrived as India are set to host their first ever World Cup match on Friday. New Zealand square off against Turkey at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai, while Colombia face Ghana at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, with both matches kicking off at 5:00 pm IST.
Having put up a good fight against Brazil and England in warm-up games in Mumbai, the Kiwis enter their opening match not as the favourites but as a team with a physical and organised style of play.
However, technically-gifted Turkey — who made it to the semi-finals of the recently-concluded Euro U-17 — are said to have an advantage over the tall, well-built Kiwis. Turkey coach Mehmet Hacioglu didn't look too worried about their opponent's much-talked-about physical threat. Instead, he believes that his players have enough skill in their armoury to dominate not only New Zealand but all their opponents in Group B.
"We are much more technical. The New Zealand players and other rivals in our group have important physical capabilities. They're much bigger in size than us but we have an advantage against them. We prepared ourselves for this physical challenge during our preparatory camp. We have a dedicated gameplan in advance with our focus on both, offensive and defensive side of the game," Hacioglu told reporters at the pre-match press conference on Thursday.
A slew of questions were raised ahead of the tournament, one of which was the scorching heat and humidity in India. It is evident that the players will have their task cut out when they step out on the field for their respective matches because of the unfamiliar conditions. But Hacioglu reckons the heat will affect all the 24 teams participating. “We were aware of the difficulties with regards to the temperature. It was the reason why after the preparation period we came early to India. Humidity is obviously high, but we know it will affect all teams,” Hacioglu added.
Ahead of the world event, Turkey had divided their preparatory camp into two parts so that they could acclimatise to the conditions in India. “Our camp before the tournament was a two-step preparation. We trained closest to India (in Qatar) geographically to adjust with the conditions, then we arrived in Mumbai for the second phase of our camp,” said Hacioglu.
It's U-17 World Cup, not life and death
For a team who has exceeded expectations at the OFC U-17 Championships, losing narrowly to Brazil and England have made coach Daniel Hay a bit concerned about his players' approach towards the game against quality oppositions.
"The practice games were huge for us. We found out a lot about ourselves, strengths and weaknesses in terms of our game plan. When you play against the likes of Brazil and England, there is no way to hide. They are two very good sides. It is the first time our players played against world class players and team. It was a massive learning curve for us," Hay told reporters at the pre-match media conference.
The Kiwis may have conceded five goals in the practice matches, but on the brighter side, they scored three against two quality oppositions. "We are used to playing with our backs to the wall. But here we are showing signs of attack which is a positive sign," he said.
Hay also admitted that the quality of their Turkish counterparts is far better but maintains that the result will be decided on his side's performance.
"Just look at some of the odds that betting agencies out there have put up, we have got no chance to beat Turkey. We have watched a lot of footage of them and their (Turkey's) qualification campaign in the UEFA Euro U-17 Championships. We are just preparing ‘us’ and just making sure that our performance is good," the coach mentioned.
The mentality of Hay's Young Whites was always going to be a talking point going into the competition, as the Kiwis have struggled against much-fancied opponents in the past.
"If you look at the record of FIFA events which New Zealand team has been involved in, the first game has always been a struggle because we simply do not get the opportunity often enough to play against world-class opposition. So, we try to avoid that kind of slump. The players should go out there without fear and feel the atmosphere as it's just the U-17 World Cup and not a situation of life and death," Hay concluded.
Updated Date: Oct 06, 2017 12:59 PM