New Zealand have found themselves forced into a reshuffle of sorts this week as they go in search of their best ever finish at a FIFA U-20 World Cup.
While injury and suspensions tend to provide the bumps on the road during an intensive tournament schedule, this is one that evokes more mixed feelings.
With the senior All Whites set to compete at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 in June, two of the standout U-20 players – captain Clayton Lewis and Dane Ingham – have been plucked away from the action in Korea Republic to make the step up.
“We knew that there was a possibility that Anthony Hudson may name some of our players,” Darren Bazeley explained, following their final group game. “The squad knew that and everybody wanted to be selected to go to the Confederations Cup.”
As Clayton departed, he reflected on what has been one of the high-points in his career so far. “It is a massive privilege,” he told FIFA.com. “I think everyone growing up wants to play for their country and be the captain, so it’s a huge honour and a real privilege. To lead the boys here was massive.”
These departures have left large boots to fill against France and, next, in New Zealand’s Round of 16 clash with USA, as they bid to navigate into the uncharted territory of the last eight. Step forward Moses Dyer.
“I was expecting it,” he laughed, when asked if his appointment was a surprise. “It was a good feeling when [the coach] came up and told me. Unbelievable. Putting the armband on and doing all that stuff that a captain does was amazing; my greatest honour.”
In some ways, it was a role he was born to play. “My mum has always told me that she wanted me to be a leader, that’s why she named me Moses!” he revealed. “I don’t feel like I need to be so vocal on the pitch as a captain, I just need to show it with my body language, my energy, my fight on the pitch. That’s where I show my leadership.”
Now the matter at hand is creating some U-20 World Cup history, with experiences from two years ago – when they reached the knockout stage on home soil – key, with both their present and departing captain in action there.
“As you know, it’s a rugby nation and being able to get of the group and make history was massive for us,” Lewis explained. “Just getting to the Round of 16 stage, beating Myanmar in the last group game, this kind of changed football in New Zealand.”
His successor is in full agreement about this attitudinal change. “We’ve changed our mentality, we’re no longer the underdog team,” Moses said. “That last World Cup gave me heaps of confidence and made me realise that if we stick together as a team we can go on to do whatever we want.”