Nine Nix named in Junior All Whites’ World Cup squad

First team squad member Finn Surman and eight Wellington Phoenix academy players have been named in the New Zealand men’s squad for the upcoming FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina.

The centre back, who graduated from the academy last year, captained the Junior All Whites to the OFC U-19 Championship title in September, starting all six matches in Tahiti.

Surman and six academy players from that squad: fellow defenders Isaac Hughes and Lukas Kelly-Heald and midfielders Dan McKay, Fin Conchie, Noah Karunaratne and Jackson Manuel (on loan at Western Springs) have been selected in the final 21-strong squad for the World Cup.

Goalkeeper Alby Kelly-Heald, Lukas’ twin brother, and attacking midfielder Ben Wallace have forced their way into the squad as a result of consistent performances for the reserves in last year’s National League and the start of the 2023 Central League.

All eight reserves players have trained with the Phoenix first team in the past year and Karunaratne and Hughes have been part of matchday squads this A-League season.

Academy technical director Paul Temple will also travel to Argentina as one of Darren Bazeley’s assistant coaches.

The 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup starts on May 20 and runs until June 11.

New Zealand are in group A with hosts Argentina, Uzbekistan and Guatemala. The Junior All Whites will play Guatemala on the opening day of the tournament in Santiago del Estero before playing Uzbekistan in the same city on May 23. They will then travel to San Juan to face Argentina in their final pool match on May 26.

The top two sides from each of the six groups and the four best third-placed finishers progress to the round of 16. New Zealand has qualified for the last 16 of the past three FIFA U-20 World Cups.

Argentina have stepped in to host the tournament at late notice. Indonesia was stripped of the hosting rights five weeks ago, amidst protests at Israel’s participation.