The beautiful game is enjoying a taste of the limelight in New Zealand as the country looks forward to welcoming international football teams and their fans.
The 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup is scheduled to take place in New Zealand from 30 May - 20 June 2015 but - with the tournament's one-year-to-go date just passed - the country is already in football fever with a series of high-profile on and off-feld football dates on the calendar.
World's rising stars
Seven host cities across New Zealand will host some of the most talented rising stars of the world game when the FIFA U-20 World Cup is staged here next year.
Both Auckland and Wellington marked the one-year-to-go countdown to the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2015 with football related celebrations and activities on Friday (30.05.2014).
As part of the festivities, Dave Beech - CEO of FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015 - blew his whistle to begin a local celebrity football match at Auckland’s Aotea Square at the exact moment the tournament will kick-off in the ‘City of Sails’ in 2015.
Football freestylers, futsal stars, a colourful samba band and the FIFA U-20 World Cup trophy gave Aucklanders a taste of what’s to come in 2015, while the capital city, Wellington treated football fanatics to New Zealand’s first full-size portable futsal pitch in Civic Square.
The one-year-to-go events marked the end of a nationwide tour of the FIFA U-20 World Cup trophy. Since the moving official welcome to the sacred shores of Waitangi - the birthplace of modern New Zealand - the trophy has been on tour visiting official host cities - Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, New Plymouth and Wellington in the North Island and Christchurch and Dunedin in the South Island.
Trophy's tourist stop
The trophy also appeared at major tourist destinations, including the Hobbiton Movie Set, Waitomo Glowworm Caves and the alpine resort of Queenstown.
"When organising a global event of this magnitude, a year is nothing. It will go by in a flash and with FIFA World Cup about to kick-off in Brazil, we are excited about the football fever that is kicking in across the country," said Dave Beeche.
The one-year-to-go celebrations culminated on Friday evening (30.05.2104) as thousands of fans watched the New Zealand All Whites take on South Africa in an international friendly at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium.
The 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup takes place in New Zealand 30 May - 20 June, 2015.
With all eyes on Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, New Zealand Football has announced that it will bring some South American skill and flair to New Zealand when the Brazilian women’s football team comes to play the New Zealand Football Ferns in a two-match tournament later this month.
Football Ferns coach Tony Readings says confirming Brazil for a home tour is a coup for the country and signals where the New Zealand side sits in the world pecking order.
"It’s exciting that we’ve been able to secure Brazil for this series and it shows how far we’ve come in the last few years that we’re now able to attract the top teams in the world to visit New Zealand to play us," Readings said.
The 20th ranked Football Ferns will meet Brazil in Auckland at Mt Smart Stadium on 16 June before moving on to Taupo for the second match of the series at Owen Delany Park on 19 June.
Football United Tour
A month later, New Zealand will welcome two of the England's notable football teams when West Ham United and Newcastle United head Down-under to take on A-League sides the Wellington Phoenix (NZ) and Sydney FC (Australia) in a pre-season Football United Tour.
This is the first time either team has played in New Zealand, and the first time they will be involved in a double header tournament, playing on the same pitch, on the same day.
West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce has expressed his delight at the opportunity to see his squad play in New Zealand for the first time and has assured fans that he will bring his strongest squad for the fixtures.
"Myself, my staff and my players are all hugely looking forward to visiting New Zealand," Allardyce said.
"Interest in the club and the Barclays Premier League continues to grow rapidly, the Football United Tour will also form a central and important part of our pre-season schedule.
"We will be bringing a strong first-team squad to New Zealand, will be training every day and playing two fixtures against quality opposition in Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC."
Newcastle United take on two-time A-League champions Sydney FC at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium on 22 July. West Ham United play the Wellington Phoenix at Auckland’s Eden Park on 23 July, before both teams head to Wellington’s Westpac Stadium, for the double-header showpiece - Sydney vs West Ham and the Phoenix vs Newcastle on 26 July.
FIFA U-20 World Cup trophy tours NZ's best locations