Junior All Whites coach Chris Milicich has named Wairarapa United's Dale Higham in his 20-strong squad for the OFC under-20 Championship in Fiji from March 21 to 29.
Higham has been a star of the Wairarapa United squad the past couple of seasons, playing a key role in their memorable Chatham Cup final 2-1 win over Napier City Rovers in 2011 and their strong, but ultimately unsuccessful, bid to take their first Central League title last year.
If Higham and the Junior All Whites can claim the Oceania tournament they will earn a spot in the under-20 World Cup in Turkey in June and July.
In a boost for the domestic game, more than half the squad play in the ASB Premiership with many having played in the past 12 months; an aspect Milicich believes is good for football in 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."
Players in that category include Luke Adams of Derby County and Wellington Phoenix duo Tyler Boyd and Louis Fenton, while players such as Scott Basalaj, Tom Biss, Justin Gulley, Alec Solomons and Hamish Watson are all part of the Phoenix's school of excellence.
Barring injury, Tim Payne is expected to be selected for the All Whites squad to face New Caledonia in their crucial World Cup qualifier in Dunedin on March 22 and the Solomon Islands in Honiara four days later, which falls in the middle of the Junior All Whites campaign to qualify for Turkey.
"Part of our role is to develop future All Whites, but we're also part of the wider New Zealand Football family and with the two campaigns being held concurrently we want to qualify for both."
The squad will meet in Auckland on March 12 with Adams, All Whites utility Cameron Howieson (Burnley), Max Crocombe (Oxford United) and trialist Bill Tuiloma returning from Europe. Boyd and Fenton are in the A-League with Perth Glory defender Storm Roux.
Goalkeeper Crocombe and Roux are new faces to most New Zealand football fans although 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 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."
It will be Milicich's second consecutive campaign and he confirmed the 2013 Junior All Whites will play a different style to the class of 2011.
"Each group is completely different. We look at the group of players available and then build tactics around the personnel.
"The last group of U-20s had certain strengths that we tried to maximise, whereas this group is quite different, we've got the ability to play through the thirds and retain the ball at the back.
"We'll take a possession-based approach, working on the principle that we can control the tempo of the game with the ball. That way we'll also be able to control how much energy we expend in the game and deny our opposition the ball."
The draw has not been kind to New Zealand with the defending OFC under-20 champions set to play their four matches in a row before sitting out the final match day after receiving the last available bye.
New Caledonia has a similarly difficult campaign ahead after drawing the bye on day one.
"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," Milicich said.
New Zealand's first match is against Papua New Guinea on March 21, before facing Vanuatu, New Caledonia and the hosts Fiji in consecutive matches every two days. APNZ
Junior All Whites squad
Goalkeepers: Scott Basalaj (Team Wellington), Max Crocombe (Oxford United, England),
Defenders: Storm Roux (Perth Glory, Australia), Bill Tuiloma (Birkenhead United), Simon Arms (Auckland City), Luke Adams (Derby County, England), Alec Solomons (Team Wellington), Liam Higgins (YoungHeart Manawatu), Kade Schrijvers (YoungHeart Manawatu)
Midfielders: Tom Biss (Team Wellington), Cameron Howieson (Burnley, England), Jesse Edge (Waikato FC), Louis Fenton (Wellington Phoenix), Justin Gulley (Team Wellington)
Forwards: Hamish Watson (Team Wellington), Tyler Boyd (Wellington Phoenix), Van Elia (Team Wellington Youth), Ryan Thomas (Waikato FC), Joel Stevens (Otago United), Dale Higham (YoungHeart Manawatu)Football