Plan change takes play­ers to Doha

Matamata Chronicle - - Front Page - By LAURA MCLEAY

Earth­quakes and tsunamis had not de­terred Oliver Wright from head­ing to Ja­pan to pur­sue his foot­ball dreams but while he was mid air ra­di­a­tion lev­els es­ca­lated, chang­ing his plans.

The Mata­mata 17-year-old is a part of the New Zealand U17 foot­ball team, the Young All Whites, and was on his way to Ja­pan to rep­re­sent New Zealand in the Sanix Cup, an in­ter­na­tional foot­ball tour­na­ment.

As the team was fly­ing over, New Zealand foot­ball of­fi­cials de­cided to re­lo­cate them to Qatar’s As­pire Academy in Doha, where they are now com­plet­ing foot­ball train­ing.

Many of the tour­na­ment games are be­ing or­gan­ised for later in the week. If Oliver does well in this tour he may be se­lected for the U17 New Zealand team which is set to travel to Mex­ico in June for the World Foot­ball Cham­pi­onships – a rare op­por­tu­nity.

Be­fore he left last week, Oliver as­sured the Mata­mata Chron­i­cle he would be safe be­cause they would be some dis­tance from the earth­quake zone but it was the ra­di­a­tion that kept them from Ja­pan.

Oliver said he was look­ing for­ward to the games in Qatar be­cause of the skill level and ex­per­tise the play­ers there have.

‘‘They are some of the best U17 play­ers from around the world, so I am very ex­cited to com­pete against them,’’ he said. ‘‘ I am happy the tour has gone ahead. ‘‘When the tsunami first ap­peared on tele­vi­sion I though the tour would def­i­nitely be can­celled but later re­ceived a letter from the Foot­ball New Zealand say­ing it was still hap­pen­ing.’’

New Zealand foot­ball sought ad­vice from the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and tour­na­ment or­gan­is­ers be­fore con­firm­ing the team’s par­tic­i­pa­tion. ‘‘There are no safety con­cerns for us or the tour wouldn’t be go­ing ahead,’’ New Zealand coach Steve Cain said.

‘‘ We are look­ing for­ward to play­ing but we will do what­ever we can there to em­pathise with the Ja­panese peo­ple. ‘‘ Both coun­tries have suf­fered and hope­fully we can show some sort of sol­i­dar­ity with them,’’ he said.

Ja­pan has with­drawn its U17 team from the Sanix Cup.

Oliver Wright

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