Fifa's time in the House of Pain

Brazil’s Leonardo (right) celebrates his hat trick with team-mate Anderson during the Fifa Under...
Brazil’s Leonardo (right) celebrates his hat trick with team-mate Anderson during the Fifa Under-17 World Championship quarterfinal at Carisbrook in 1999. Brazil won 4-1. PHOTOS: ODT FILES
Twenty years ago, Dunedin played a key role as New Zealand hosted a Fifa tournament for the first time. The Under-17 World Championship featured four pools, one of which was hosted at Carisbrook, then at the height of its rugby fame but transformed into a footballing paradise. Former sports editor Hayden Meikle looks back on a tournament he covered.

The House of Pain became the House of the Beautiful Game for a couple of weeks, and it was wonderful.

Carisbrook had hosted two mega rugby events - the NPC final in 1998, and the Super 12 final in 1999, back when both competitions made sense and attracted huge crowds - leading up to its debut as a big-time football ground.

The ground had hosted ``soccer'', as we called it 20 years ago, before, of course. But it had never seen anything like the Fifa Under-17 World Championship.

The dear old `Brook looked amazing. Its famous turf was in immaculate condition, so much so that an organiser later described Dunedin's beloved sports ground as the best of the ones used in the tournament (North Harbour Stadium, McLean Park and the old QE2 Park in Christchurch were the others).

Such an exotic flavour to our pool, as well. Burkina Faso! I mean, where even is that?

The Jamaicans (cliche alert) added lots of colour, on and off the field. Paraguay brought a typical South American skill level. And Qatar, well, those young blokes had excellent moustaches.

Mainly, the tournament was memorable because of the football. It was, almost uniformly, superb. The young fellows dribbled and dinked and, yes, occasionally dived their way through the pool games, after which we had the thrill of getting Brazil here for a quarterfinal.

Up north, a New Zealand under-17 team containing future All Whites like David Mulligan and Jeremy Christie performed with credit, beating Poland and competing well with an eventual semifinalist, the United States.

Otago rugby chief Colin Weatherall (left) shows Fifa events manager Michel Bachinni around...
Otago rugby chief Colin Weatherall (left) shows Fifa events manager Michel Bachinni around Carisbrook in 1999. Under the umbrella is the tournament director, the late Bill MacGowan.
Kevin Fallon, assistant coach of the legendary 1982 All Whites, led the young Kiwis in his usual style.

The Brazilians won the tournament, beating surprise package Australia on penalties after a goal-less final, and a player from Ghana called Ishmael Addo won the Golden Shoe award for scoring seven goals.

The tournament attracted 216,853 fans - an average of 6777 per game, very decent for a youth event.

It is now almost expected that young New Zealand teams (male and female) will qualify for, and play well at, Fifa age group events. And we've since hosted an even bigger Fifa tournament, the under-20 men's championship, in 2015 with a rather fancier Dunedin stadium hosting a pool.

But all those who were there knew 1999 was a bit special.

Humble beginnings

Here are some of the young men
who played in the 1999 tournament
and went on to bigger things:

Pepe Reina (Spain): Well, of
course I start with the Liverpool
player. Jose "Pepe" Reina later
played 285 games in goal for
Liverpool and 36 games for Spain.

Tony Lochhead (New Zealand):
The left back became a fixture in the
Phoenix (131 games) and All
Whites (47), and played in the MLS.

DaMarcus Beasley (USA): Just an
awesome talent on the left flank.
Played for PSV, Manchester City
and Rangers, earned 126 caps for
the Yanks and played in four World
Cups.

Landon Donovan (USA): The
poster boy of the tournament and
named best player. Scored 57
goals in 157 games for the senior
US team, and 113 goals in 253
games for LA Galaxy.

Tomasz Kuszczak (Poland):
Floated around the Premier League
for years, playing in goal for
Brighton, Bournemouth, Watford,
Manchester United and West Brom.

Michael Essien (Ghana): Honestly
can’t remember him in the 1999
tournament. But became a huge
star in the Chelsea midfield for a
decade.

Thomas Hitzlsperger (Germany):
Played 99 games for Aston Villa
and earned 52 caps for Germany.
After retiring, became one of the
highest-profile international
footballers to come out as gay.

Adriano (Brazil): Surprisingly few
of the champion Brazilian team
graduated to the senior ranks.
"L’Imperatore" — the Emperor —
had a long career in Serie A and
played 48 games for the senior
Brazilian team. Career faded a bit
once he packed on the pounds.

Dylan Macallister (Australia):
Lots of the Aussies became
regulars in the A-League.
Macallister played for the Mariners,
Gold Coast, Melbourne Heart and,
for one season, the Phoenix.

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