The FIFA U-20 World Cup kicked into action at Auckland’s North Harbour Stadium today (30.05.2015) – heralding the most important football tournament ever held in New Zealand.
The opening clash – between host nation New Zealand and the Ukraine which resulted in a draw – was preceded by a colourful opening ceremony giving New Zealand football fans and the world a taste of the excitement to come during the three-week tournament (30 May – 20 June).
Auckland – New Zealand’s largest city – is known for delivering fantastic events and the football festivities were in full swing in the ‘City of Sails’ Fever Pitch hub at Queens Wharf, on the city’s thriving downtown waterfront.
Later today, six-time FIFA U-20 World Cup champions Argentina were scheduled to take on Panama in a tense clash in New Zealand’s capital city Wellington. The game took place in an electric atmosphere at Wellington’s waterfront stadium – also known as the ‘Cake Tin’ due to its circular shape and home to the Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand’s only professional football team.
Just as Argentina’s clash was getting underway in Wellington, the USA kicked off their campaign against Myanmar in the northern city of Whangarei.
Today (30.05.2015) marks the beginning of the tournament – the second biggest in FIFA’s football calendar – as 24 of the world’s most talented U-20 football teams vie for the crown of FIFA U-20 World Cup winners.
A total of 52 games will be played out in seven host cities around New Zealand, offering Kiwi football fans the chance to see some of the rising stars on the world game on their own doorstep.
In the lead up to the big kick off, each team has been treated to a moving Māori cultural welcome in the host city where they will be based for their group games.
Yesterday (29.05.2015) Hungary, Nigeria, Korea DPR and Brazil – whose displays at previous tournaments have helped produce past greats such as Ronaldinho and current English Premier League stars Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool) and Oscar (Chelsea) – were given their traditional welcomes at New Plymouth’s Ōwae Marae.
As part of their welcome, each team member was gifted a pounamu (carved New Zealand greenstone) crafted by local jewellers The Rock Shed. Each pounamu, which was presented in a handwoven flax kete basket, was blessed by the event manager Kiterangi Cameron.
In New Zealand the sacred pounamu is a symbol of strength, durability and beauty. Historically used by Māori for tools, weapons and personal ornaments, pounamu also denotes great status.
Three markings on the pounamu given to the players symbolise the importance of physical, spiritual and environmental unity.
Five time FIFA U-20 World Cup Champions Brazil will start their campaign in a tantalising clash against Nigeria at New Plymouth’s Stadium Taranaki on 1 June, followed by Korea DPR against Hungary later the same afternoon.
German footballers play rugby
Meanwhile, in Christchurch on Friday, the German U-20 footballers, who face Fiji in their opening game (1 June) learned how to perform the haka (Māori war challenge) before putting down the football and picking up a rugby ball to play a game of touch rugby with players from Christchurch’s Linwood Rugby Club.
A few former All Blacks – including Canterbury veteran Billy Bush - were also on hand to give the players some tips about the history of rugby, and what makes a great player.
The FIFA U-20 World Cup 2015
Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, New Plymouth and Wellington in the North Island will host games, while Christchurch and Dunedin will represent the sport-loving South Island. The schedule sees four pool games played in two of the seven host cities daily - with plenty of double-header football action to whet the sporting appetite.
During the three-week tournament (30 May - 20 June 2015) New Zealand will play host to 24 international teams, with a total of 52 matches played.
Broadcast to more than 100 countries, with a global reach of around 170 million people, the FIFA U-20 World Cup will also help promote New Zealand to the world. Thousands of overseas football fans are expected to travel to the country in support of their team.