• Danny Hay (Image Source: Google)

    New Delhi, Sep 25 (IANS) The New Zealand Under-17 football team’s chief coach, Danny Hay, believes his side has been drawn into one of the toughest groups of the World Cup and is aware of the difficulties it will face to progress to the next round.

    New Zealand who were crowned the OFC (Oceania) Champions earlier this year, have been drawn against Turkey, Mali and Paraguay in the Group B of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

    Turkey defeated traditional football giants Italy 2-1 in UEFA U-17 European Championship Croatia, while Mali clinched the African championship and Praguay finished third in the South American Championship.

    “We are fully aware that we have been drawn into one of the toughest groups. Mali as African champions will be one of the favourites to win the competition. Paraguay only lost once in 12 qualifying matches in South America, and Turkey were extremely strong in UEFA qualifying,” Hay told IANS.

    “Therefore, we are under no illusions as to how difficult it will be to progress from our group.”

    Despite being drawn against tough opponents, he remains confident about his young and positive squad.

    “That said, we are confident in the work we have put in during our preparation period. We have a squad of young men who are very positive and have great character,” Hay, who featured 31 times for New Zealand senior team from 1996-2007, said.

    Hay, who used to play as centre-back and scored two goals, hailed the facilities provided to the foreign teams by hosts India.

    “Put simply, this is the biggest stage at this age level. I truly believe that India is going to do a fantastic job of hosting the tournament. The quality of the facilities is very high, and the way the Indian people have got behind the build-up to it has been impressive. With this in mind, we are really looking forward to the World Cup in India,” the 42-year-old said.

    The Auckland-born also said football in his country is progressing, primarily due to the youth and he would like to see the New Zealand senior team qualify in the World Cup every four years.

    “The New Zealand senior team have qualified for the World Cup on two occasions — 1982 and 2010. Obviously, we would like them to qualify every four years but are aware of the difficulty of the challenge. The game is progressing in New Zealand with big numbers playing at youth level,” Hay said.

    Hay said the New Zealand coaches are playing a key role in producing better footballers in the country.

    “With better coaches helping to produce better players (technically, tactically and mentally better) there is optimism that the game is moving ahead in a positive way. Hopefully, the NZ U-17s can continue that in India,” Hay, who was appointed as coach of the New Zealand under-17 team in April 2015, said.

    Hay, who was the coach of the New Zealand at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup where they lost to Brazil in the round of 16, revealed the basic qualities he looked for in the players who made it into the final 21-man squad for the upcoming World Cup.

    “Character is the first thing we look for — players who have the right work ethic and attitude. After those essential ingredients, we look for players with good technical ability and a strong tactical awareness regarding our playing model,” Hay said.

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    The IANS was founded by Indian American publisher Gopal Raju as the India Abroad News Service. It was later renamed the Indo-Asian News Service.

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