James Nieuwenhuizen picked for Joeys

By Alex Mitchell

James Nieuwenhuizen cannot stop kicking goals or, perhaps more importantly, cannot stop saving them either.

The Shepparton product, 15, is heading to Vietnam today with Australia's best under-16 footballers, where the goalkeeper will try and help side qualify for the Asian Football Confederation under-16 Championships.

The side faces Vietnam, Timor-Leste, Mongolia and Macau and must top its group or finish as one of the best second-ranked side across 11 groups to seal qualification for the 2020 AFC under-16 Championships.

But there is even more than that on the line, with those championships acting as qualifiers for the 2021 FIFA under-17 World Cup.

Nieuwenhuizen, who recently debuted for the national side at the ASEAN Football Federation Under-15 Championships in Thailand, said the chance to wear the Joeys shirt had been an honour.

"(The jersey) felt a bit heavier than usual," he said with laugh.

"It was real fun and a real honour to represent your country.

"I suppose it was the best game to play because it was against the best team (Malaysia) and they went and won it. It was our first time playing a real quality team, it was kind of a baptism of fire, but it was a good experience."

The Joeys met in Canberra on Monday for a pre-tournament training camp, with the Goulburn Valley Sun the only player picked from a country club.

"They're all from metro teams, so being a country kid you're kind of a black sheep," Nieuwenhuizen said.

"Everyone asks you what club you play for and it's pretty good to be able to say here. It shows kids from the country can do it, we've got the people here, players and coaches, to do it."

Heading off with hopes to do both himself and his country proud, Nieuwenhuizen said his taste of the national team had certainly left him wanting more.

"It makes you want to work harder because you've got that taste and you want to keep doing it - hopefully all the way up to the Socceroos," he said.

The youngster said local coaches David Davkovski, Shaban Mehmet, Tommy Giuliani, Glen Wilson, Craig Carley and Billy Marshall had all played a part in shaping him as a footballer, along with his dedicated parents.