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FIFA U-20 World Cup

From ball boy to World Cup star: Ben Waine’s incredible football journey

(FIFA.com)
Ben Waine of New Zealand celebrates victory 
© Getty Images

It is 2015 and New Zealand are hosting the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Thirteen-year-old ball boy Ben Waine watches the stars of tomorrow strut their stuff, dreaming that one day he will do the same. Fast-forward four years and the youngster is a shining light at Poland 2019.

His parents, having travelled several thousand kilometres, watch on in amazement as game by game he matures as a player. And since we are talking about coming of age, Waine turns 18 on 11 June and would obviously love to still be in Poland to celebrate it.

© Getty Images

Waine played a key part in New Zealand’s opener, chipping in with two goals as the Junior All Whites thumped Honduras 5-0. Which is more stressful though, being a ball boy or playing at a World Cup?

"I’d say playing. You tend to get more nervous on the pitch,” says Waine in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “As a ball boy, I worked on quite a few matches. I remember I did one of the New Zealand games, and I was also on duty when Argentina played. I was excited to have the chance to get so close to such great players. And then, of course, I started to think, or rather dream, how amazing it would be if I crossed that white line and was playing myself."

Waine has made his dream a reality, but making the squad for Poland 2019 was no foregone conclusion. "That’s right, until recently I wasn’t sure if I’d be on the plane, but I’m really happy I managed to convince the coach. I’m the youngest in the team, but I feel right at home. The atmosphere within the group is excellent and is one of the factors behind our success. We’re like a family, the lads are like brothers to me."

© Getty Images

This is Ben’s first time in Poland, where he has the support of not just his team-mates but his family, who have also made the staggering 18,000-kilometre journey from New Zealand.

"As soon as we knew I was going to the World Cup, my family started looking at flights and booking tickets. It was all hands on deck. So, I’ve got my mum, dad, sister, cousins and uncles here, as well as some family members who live in England. All in all, there are 12 people here supporting me."

While Waine’s morale has been boosted by the support of his family, New Zealand’s results have also been a huge source of encouragement. The Junior All Whites followed up that 5-0 win over Honduras with a 2-0 success against Norway, a result that took them into the next round.

"People probably wouldn’t have expected that before the tournament, as New Zealand aren’t really known as a footballing nation, but we’re showing everyone what we’re capable of. Aside from the phenomenal atmosphere, we have excellent players.

"Where would I like to celebrate my birthday? In Poland, of course! Because that would mean we’ve gone deep into the tournament.

"And my dream present? To be playing, but that’s not so important. I don’t think we should set any particular goals. The best present would be to come off the pitch knowing that we’d played to the best of our ability. That’s the feeling I want to go home with. Then we can say: ‘Hey, we gave it our all out there in Poland'."

New Zealand have now qualified for the U-20 World Cup knockout phase for a third consecutive time, although on both previous occasions they fell at the very next hurdle. Are they ready to take that historic next step?

“First of all, we’ve got to face Uruguay and we want to win that match because that’s the mentality of this team,” says the striker whose idols include David Beckham and Marcus Rashford. “After that? Anything can happen in knockout football. Underestimate us at your peril, we’ve already proven that. I hope we’ve won over some new fans with our approach, and we continue to do so.”

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