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The youth of today

Northern Based New Zealand Under 17s 4, Waikato FC 2
North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, January 27 2013

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This game took me back. Waaaaaay back to the primary school playgrounds of old. Everyone remembers a scene like it, whether they participated themselves or watched one unfold in front of them. Picture this: A small kid with a hot temper flips his lid and goes bananas. He tries to attack someone bigger than him, only to learn a valuable lesson about ‘reach’. All the bigger kid has to do to hold off his assailant is hold a long arm out and place his hand on the smaller kid’s head while his attacker flails around at thin air like the rotors of an apache helicopter.

Going into the third round, the ASB Youth League was shaping up beautifully. Having five teams in each conference gives this tournament a hint of variety that was lacking a little bit from the eight team National Women’s League before Christmas. While the women’s teams were federation based, the men’s teams are based on the franchise areas of the ASB Premiership. Waitakere, Auckland, Waikato and Hawkes Bay are joined by the 17s in the North while newcomers Nelson join Manawatu, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago in the Southern Conference.

While the 17s and Hawkes Bay look like the strongest teams on paper in the North, Waikato should be no slouches. Whatever financial and organisational shemozzles that plague Waikato FC, their record in producing youth capable of stepping up into the ranks of professional football has been stellar of late. Just in the past few months, three former Waikato youth products have been stealing big headlines. Tyler Boyd is making a real impact for the Phoenix, Nik Robson has just been snapped up by MLS club Toronto FC, while Marco Rojas has been dubbed “Kiwi Messi” by the Melbourne Victory faithful and is tipped to be picked up by a major European club very shortly.

But despite all that, today was a master class in possession based football from the Under 17s. I wouldn’t quite say they were toying with the opposition but they certainly seemed to strangle the life out of them, especially in the first half when they particularly dominated control of the ball. They quickly moved out to a two goal lead and until just before half time they looked like sleepwalking to victory. A Waikato penalty on the stroke of half time, saved initially by the 17s keeper but bludgeoned home on the rebound by the visitors, put that in some doubt and gave Waikato hope going into the second stanza, but the second half followed a somewhat similar script to the first.

The 17s scored first to restore their two goal cushion and then looked happy to sit back and counterattack. While Waikato spent a lot of time in the 17s half, it didn’t seem to be with any sense of urgency. They managed to nod a goal from a corner with around ten minutes left and all of a sudden the intensity picked up quite a lot as Waikato fought and scraped for an equaliser, but it never came. They were finally finished off in injury time when the 17s scored a counterattacking fourth – despite two smart saves from the Waikato keeper, the third rebound went in.

Like that immortal playground scene, the 17s were simply a class above and while it looked at times like Waikato were storming back into it, the reality was the 17s always had the game well and truly under control as they cruised to victory and maintained their one point lead at the top of the Northern Conference table. They are surely the team to beat for the rest of the league.

Categories: NZ Men's National Youth League

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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