A triumphant Serbia brought the curtain down on the FIFA Under-20 World Cup 2015 with a 2-1 final victory over Brazil in Auckland, New Zealand on Saturday (20.06.15). The jubilant team beat the tournament favourites to hold aloft the trophy for the first time as an independent nation.
Saturday night's thrilling final drew a capacity crowd to Auckland's North Harbour Stadium, completing the biggest ever football event in New Zealand - a three-week football fiesta that has played out across the nation.
Serbia goal-keeper Predrag Rajkovic said his team would never forget the time spent in New Zealand: "It's been wonderful! We’ve all really enjoyed this adventure and the experiences we’ve had here in New Zealand."
"We particularly appreciated the amazing welcome we’ve had from people here. Lots of Kiwis have supported us and set the mood, including today at the final where the atmosphere was unbelievable. That’s why I’d like to thank them from the bottom of my heart on behalf of the entire team."
Unforgettable World Cup
Starting in Auckland on 30 May, the FIFA U-20 World Cup has not only brought some of the future stars of the beautiful game to the attention of the watching world, it has also showcased the diverse and welcoming nature of New Zealand and its people, who rallied behind the 24 teams taking part - giving each travelling nation a distinctly Kiwi welcome.
From Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, New Plymouth and Wellington in the North Island to Dunedin and Christchurch in the South, New Zealanders packed stadiums full of noise, colour and fun giving the teams an unforgettable experience on and off the pitch.
Dave Beeche, CEO of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Local Organising Committee, said he was delighted with how New Zealanders and fans had embraced the successful tournament.
“One of our aims was to create noise, colour and movement inside the stadiums, thereby bringing that unique football atmosphere that global football is renowned for. We have seen this across the tournament from so many of our local communities including Serbians, Malians, the Brazilians, the Ghanaians and the Colombians to name but a few.
“Their engagement in the tournament, also bodes well for the future of football in this country with many more keen to get involved at a local level."
The city of Auckland has played a central role in the three-week tournament, with North Harbour Stadium hosting the opening match and the final, as well as seven other games. The sold-out final brought the total Auckland crowd to an estimated 100,000 fans – not bad for a city of almost 1.4 million people in a land where rugby usually has the upper hand.
Auckland, with its glistening boat-filled harbours, is New Zealand’s largest city. It is a multicultural melting pot and an urban metropolis with an outdoors lifestyle based on a wealth of on-the-doorstep adventures and relaxation.
Within the city centre, visitors can enjoy an exhilarating experience with a Sky Walk around, or a Sky Jump off, Auckland’s iconic Sky Tower – a soaring structure that offers thrilling 360-degree panoramas of the city and the two harbours it sits on – or take a leap of faith with a bungy jump from the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Auckland has an eclectic hospitality scene with waterfront bars, cafes and restaurants offering inspiring dishes and boutique beers - an urban playground to explore, experience and indulge the senses.
From downtown Auckland, it is a short drive to some of New Zealand’s most-loved beaches including the black-sand, surfer’s paradise of Muriwai and Piha on the west coast to the pristine white sands and sparkling blue waters of Tawharanui Regional Park on the east.
A 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland lands visitors amongst the vineyards of Waiheke Island. This island retreat from the city hustle and bustle has secluded beaches, on the water activities like stand up paddle boarding (SUP), kayaking and fishing, and eco-adventures such as zip-lining over vineyards and native New Zealand forest.
During Saturday’s final (20.06.2015) football fans packed Auckland’s Queens Wharf on the waterfront to watch the drama unfold on screen. Queens Wharf, which has been home to the FIFA Fever Pitch, a hub for all things football, for the duration of the tournament that frequently hosts some of Auckland’s most exciting events and celebrations.