One Year On: Kiwi players from the U-20 World Cup

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In May 2019, Des Buckingham brought a New Zealand team to the FIFA U-20 World Cup that was bursting with talent. One year on, how have those players done?

We take a look at the impact the players in that team have had on the football world in the past 12 months. For brevity and clarity purposes this article will only look at players who are playing professionally or at professional clubs.

Michael Woud (Willem II)

After his penalty heroics in the ultimately doomed shootout against Colombia, Michael Woud returned to Willem where he is the second choice keeper behind Timon Wellenreuther. Over the past twelve months, he has just a single appearance for Willem. While he is still only 21 and time remains on his side in the short term perhaps a loan would be best.

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George Stanger (Hamilton Academical) 

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The 19-year-old centre back has spent this past season on a pair of loans to Scottish semi-professional sides. The loan to Lowland League side East Kilbride in 2019 was followed by his current loan at Forfar Athletic where he made just four appearances before being dropped. Still got work to do.

Nando Pijnaker (Grasshopper) 

Following the World Cup, one of the Olé Football Academy’s most exciting prospects, Nando Pijnaker joined Olé’s Swedish sister club Torslanda IK where 14 appearances would earn a move to Swiss club Grasshoppers. In that time he also made his senior national team debut in New Zealand’s 1-0 loss to Lithuania. He is making great strides in his career and could be the All White’s starting centre back for the next decade.

Dalton Wilkins (FC Helsingør) 

Along with fellow Olé graduate Elijah Just, Dalton Wilkins joined Danish third tier side Helsingør after the World Cup. There, the left back has been mostly a bench player with just four appearances and one start at the time of writing. But like everyone here, time remains on his side.

Gianni Stensness (Central Coast Mariners) 

Following his World Cup, Gianni Stensness rejected a professional contract at the Wellington Phoenix to instead try and get a club in Europe. But when that did not work out, Stensness was forced to return to his youth club: the Mariners. The defensive midfielder has been a rare bright spot for the Gosford based club in a dismal season. He has started 21 out of 22 possible games, scored a screamer against Western United and was rewarded for his fantastic form with a new contract in December.

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Liberato Cacace (Wellington Phoenix) 

Despite overseas interest Liberato Cacace has so far elected to stay with the Nix: after all, he is thriving in Wellington. He has developed into the league’s best full back and with three goals so far he has even become something of a goal scorer. A scintillating player who is a privilege to watch, Nix fans have become resigned to the fact he has outgrown the league and will move to greener pastures soon. Well on his way to the top.

Callan Elliot (Wellington Phoenix) 

After getting his debut thanks to Mark Rudan last season, Callan Elliot is possibly the only young player who Ufuk Talay has not been a godsend for. Fighting with Louis Fenton, Tim Payne, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi and Brandon Wilson for the right back spot, it’s understandable why Elliot has zero minutes in the A-League this season. With his contract up in May, it’s looking unlikely Wellington will renew.

Joe Bell (Viking FK) 

One of the most promising players in this list, the U-20 team captain’s solid performances as a midfielder in the World Cup drew Norwegian club, Viking FK’s eye. Joe Bell was invited to trial and was eventually offered a contract which he turned down in favour of finishing his degree while playing college football in the USA. As co-captain he led the Virginia Cavaliers to the final of the 2019 NCAA, getting four goals and four assists on his way. By then his time at college was over and Viking came with a new offer. This time they were not turned down. A calming presence on the ball, Bell’s talent is there for all to see.

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Sapreet Singh (Bayern Munich) 

The biggest transfer in New Zealand football history belongs to this man. In 2019, New Zealand would lose its mind as Phoenix starlet Sapreet Singh left for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Since arriving Singh has mostly played for Bayern’s reserve team in the 3.Liga, which he has taken by storm. In just twenty games for Bayern II, he has six goals and seven assists. That averages out to a goal or assist every 116 minutes. The kiwi has also made his first team debut, making an eight minute cameo in Bayern’s 6-1 win over Werder Bremen. Mental.

Elijah Just (FC Helsingør)

Like his teammate Wilkins, Eilijah Just is struggling to get into the first team at Helsingør. While he did get his first goal in a 1-1 draw with FA 2000, with eight appearances Just has yet to start a game. The winger also finds himself in the group which made their All Whites debut in November, playing in both of Danny Hay’s first games with the national team.

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Matthew Conroy (Vejle Boldklub) 

While Matthew Conroy’s club may be a tier higher on the pyramid than Helsingør, Conroy is yet to play in the Danish second division. For the moment Conroy is still in the U-19 team, making six appearances with two goals and two assists. Still got plenty of time to break into the first team.

Max Mata (Grasshopper) 

Max Mata spent the latter part of 2019 on loan at Nõmme Kalju, where he thrived. Nine goals and six assists in 14 appearances for the Estonian club. What more can you ask? Now back at Grasshopper, once the league resumes he will be looking to build on such a successful loan by breaking into the first team.

Ben Waine (Wellington Phoenix) 

Ben Waine has been largely unable to push on from his debut under Rudan, but considering the firepower Wellington have up front it is understandable. Still with just 135 senior minutes compared to 92 last season – where he did not make an appearance until the final games of the season – it is disappointing. However, he does have reasons to be optimistic: Waine scored his first senior goal for the Nix in November, is one of their best players when he drops down to the reserves, and still is only 18.

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Callum McCowatt (Wellington Phoenix)

There was much hype around Callum McCowatt’s arrival in Wellington following his haul of 21 goals in 16 games in the ISPS Handa Premiership. Unfortunately the Olé graduate has not been able to do similar in the A-League with just a single goal against Western United. While by no means a bad player, McCowatt dropped off in the closing weeks of the season with Talay preferring a forward four of Gary Hooper, David Ball, Reno Piscopo and Ulises Dávila. When the season properly finishes however, the ball will be in McCowatt’s court. With just a one year deal if he feels like he can get better elsewhere then the Nix will be powerless to stop him.

Thanks to Chris White for the article idea. Stats taken from FBref, Transfermarkt, and Ultimate A-League.

Feature image credit: Cameron McIntosh

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Dan Moskovitz
The Football Sack's resident teen kiwi football nut. Loves everything football except defeats.