Four young Christchurch footballers are breaking new ground in their careers helping New Zealand to the semi-final of the Oceania U17 Championships. Nicholas Murphy, Jackson Cole, Eric Sugahara and Matt Foord have all played an integral part in the New Zealand U17 team which is now only one game away from qualifying for the U17 World Cup in Peru this November.
Nicholas and Jackson currently play for Christchurch United, while Cashmere Technical players Eric and Matt are also products of the Christchurch United Academy having been with the club for many years in the youth grades.
The presence of the four South Island based players, along with former Canterbury lad Luke Supyk is a big shift in national team selections. In recent decades most national squads would only have one or two, or in most ocassions no South Island players at all.
This change is a reward and reflection of the hard work many clubs around Christchurch have done in recent years to improve their youth development. The fact that Aaron Clapham a Christchurch based coach and former All White himself is the current assistant of the U17 side has helped to identify the talent coming through in Christchurch.
After narrowly beating New Caledonia in their first game 3-2, thanks to a Hat-Trick from former Waimak United and Nomads United player Luke Supyk. New Zealand then thrashed American Samoa 11-0 with Nicholas Murphy captaining the side to top the group and move into the knockout stages of the tournament.
“Playing with the fern on my chest was one hell of an achievement, but that feeling of walking my team out and captianing my side, my country, is a feeling that will never leave me. Unbelievably honoured and proud to do so. As great as this moment is for me, by no means does it allow me to slack off. I’ve still got a job to do so that’s all I’m focusing on for now.” - Nicholas Murphy on captaining our country for the first time.
The team then faced what proved to be a tough test against a well-organised Vanuatu side on Sunday night with New Zealand eventually winning the game in the 90th minute when Luke Supyk once again was the hero for his country converting the penalty awarded to him emphatically into the top right corner of the goal.
New Zealand now face a strong Fiji side in the semi-finals of the tournament on Wednesday Night 8pm NZT. With the winner of the match securing a spot at this year’s U17 FIFA World Cup in Peru this November.
This would be a dream come true for the 4 Christchurch boys, to go from their local teams to playing against the best young footballers in the world in front of huge crowds half way around the world.