Exciting Otago United forward Joel Stevens has been named
in the Junior All Whites squad for the Oceania under-20
Stevens is joined by another product of Otago Boys' High
School, midfielder Cameron Howieson, in the 20-strong squad
announced by coach Chris Milicich yesterday.
It has been a roller-coaster year for Stevens, who made a big
impact for Otago United in the ASB Premiership before
suffering a serious shoulder injury.
Selection in the national youth squad for the tournament in
Fiji from March 21 to 29 is appropriate recognition for a
player rated the most exciting to come out of Otago in years.
Howieson, who plays for English club Burnley in the
Championship, will anchor the All Whites midfield.
The squad also features Wellington Phoenix tyros Louis
Fenton and Tyler Boyd, and five players - Scott Basalaj, Tom
Biss, Justin Gulley, Alec Solomons and Hamish Watson - from the
Phoenix school of excellence.
More than half the squad play in the ASB Premiership, which
Milicich believes is a positive sign for New Zealand
''I believe the very best young players should be playing in
the ASB Premiership as soon as possible, which is good for
the player, good for the domestic clubs and a benefit for New
Zealand football as a whole.''
The Junior All Whites will assemble in Auckland on March 12,
with Howieson, Derby County defender Luke Adams and Oxford
United goalkeeper Max Crocombe travelling back from Europe.
Crocombe and Perth Glory defender Storm Roux are new faces to
most New Zealand football fans but Milicich has kept tabs on
both for some time.
''We've been tracking Max and Storm for a couple of years
now. Max is highly regarded at Oxford and someone they
believe will kick on and play at a higher level.
''Storm developed through the Northern Football Federation
system before his family moved to Perth, so he's not really a
stranger to people in the game here.''
The Oceania under-20 draw has not been kind to the Junior All
Whites, with the defending champion set to play four matches
in a row before sitting out the final match day after
receiving the last available bye.
''It's going to be really tough,'' Milicich said.
''It's set up for the best squad to win. I can't see anyone
playing more than two games, so we've picked a side where
every player has to be able to compete at the highest level
''We can only play our four games and do the best we can in
those four games and on the last game day we'll be at home.
There's no final, so it's winner takes all.''
New Zealand's first game is against Papua New Guinea on March
21. It then faces Vanuatu, New Caledonia and host Fiji in
consecutive matches every two days.
Junior All Whites
Goalkeepers: Scott Basalaj (Wellington), Max Crocombe
Defenders: Storm Roux (Perth Glory), Bill Tuiloma
(Birkenhead United), Simon Arms (Auckland City), Luke Adams
(Derby County), Alec Solomons (Wellington), Liam Higgins
(Manawatu), Kade Schrijvers (Manawatu).
Midfielders: Tom Biss (Wellington), Cameron Howieson
(Burnley), Jesse Edge (Waikato), Louis Fenton (Wellington
Phoenix), Justin Gulley (Wellington).
Forwards: Hamish Watson (Wellington), Tyler Boyd
(Wellington Phoenix), Van Elia (Wellington), Ryan Thomas
(Waikato), Joel Stevens (Otago United), Dale Higham