FIFA U17 World Cup 2017: This tournament is not life or death, says New Zealand coach
When it comes to the beautiful, expansive region of Oceania, New Zealand are considered to be the footballing giants. But Oceania is also the smallest continental region in the world.
However, on Friday, when New Zealand take on Turkey on the opening day of the FIFA U17 World Cup in Mumbai, they will be far from giants. Danny Hay's team will head into the tournament as firm underdogs and will in all probability find themselves in multiple challenging situations.
But on Thursday, the coach decided to put things into perspective. Yes, his boys will be playing the biggest tournament of their lives. Yes, it's the World Cup. But to Danny Hay, it's important that his players don't get overwhelmed by the situation at hand.
"The reality is, it's the U17 World Cup, it's not life or death. They should be enjoying this moment. New Zealand teams have suffered in the past, we've always struggled in the first game. We don't get opportunities to play against world class opponents. We dont know how the players will react tomorrow," he stated.
The Young Whites will be up against a side who reached the semi-finals of the European Championships in June this year.
While on their way to the final four, Turkey even managed to beat Italy and give Spain a run for their money, eventually losing out 2-3 in the group stage. Danny is well aware of the task that lies ahead.
"If you look at some of the odds that the betting agencies have got out there, it looks like we've got no chance. We're quietly confident, the conditions have been a challenge. We're just looking to play Turkey, they are a very strong side. We're just making sure our performance is good," he said.
After playing two practice matches in Mumbai, against Brazil and England, New Zealand's coach has a fair idea of where they stand in the larger scheme of things. The Kiwis lost both those matches, 1-2 and 2-3 respectively.
"The practice matches were huge for us, we found out a lot about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses. When you play against Brazil and England, there's nowhere you can hide, they're very good sides.
"No disrespect to OFC qualification but the level of play and teams we've come up in our practice games, it has been a huge step up. It's a massive learning curve," he added.
Throwing light on where he reckons the match will be won, Danny believes the team that manages to keep their cool under the bright lights will have a much better chance of winning the game on Friday.
"A lot of it will come down to mentality, the team that deals with the atmosphere and the pitch. We will have to be organized but we are not going out there with any fear," he signed off.