The New Zealand U-23 men’s football team has left for the Pacific Games in Samoa. We caught up with head coach Des Buckingham on his preparation and how the team will take on the challenge of meeting the best senior men’s teams from the Oceania Football Confederation.
This U-23 campaign starts now and these players have got a huge opportunity to go to the Olympics, how do you feel about that?
They do and that is really exciting. We had a big list of players which these 20 have been selected from, which is the same as what we did for the U-20s. We started with 70 players and I have kept in contact with all of them the whole way through, whether they have been in camps or squads or the World Cup itself, and it is the same process with the 23s. There is a wider list of players which incorporates those 20s and also the 1997-98 born players who become eligible for this 23s group. We start the process now of who are going to be the best players to help us qualify for the Olympic Games.
Three-cap All White Logan Rogerson will wear the silver fern again at the Pacific Games
You are going to face some tough conditions in Samoa and some challenging opposition as well, with an U-23 side taking on senior men’s teams. How much of a challenge is this going to be?
The Pacific Games is a major tournament for the Pacific Islands and to play in any major tournament is a huge privilege. But this will be a huge challenge. Some of the teams have prepared for weeks and months for this tournament and they are going with a full-strength senior national team. We are taking an U-23 team but, when you average out the age, it is an U-21 group really. But we are focused on us and won’t be too focused on the opposition. We will prepare as best we can to be ready.
There are some exciting opportunities for the U-23s and the All Whites coming up, how are you looking forward to being part of that?
Yeah, it is going to be an exciting six months. We have got the Pacific Games, we have the September window, there are the Olympic qualifiers and in November there is the All Whites window in Ireland. We have gone from limited activity over the past year and now we will have lots of games and lots of opportunities to showcase some very good young Kiwis into the under-23s or integrate them into what is already a very good All Whites team.