Bridesmaid to former Oceania confederation giants Australia for a long time, New Zealand's "Oly-Whites" have never qualified for the men's Olympic tournament before. In 1996 they only ceded the Oceania place to Australia on goal difference, while in 2004 they faced Australia in a two-leg playoff, and were somewhat unlucky to go down 3-1 on aggregate.
With Australia now competing in the Asian confederation, New Zealand had every reason to be confident ahead of the Olympic qualifying series, and their confidence was proved justified. The Oly-Whites strolled triumphantly through the Oceania qualifying tournament in Fiji, winning every match and scoring an impressive tally of 19 goals in five games. Coach Stu Jacobs' side were made to work hard in their opening match against hosts Fiji, but after sealing a 2-1 win in the second half, they never looked back.
The Oly-Whites feature a number of players with professional experience in the Australian A-League, including former Wellington Phoenix defender Steven Old, and striker Jeremy Brockie, formerly of Sydney FC. Nevertheless, the side is still short of experience at the top level, and coach Jacobs is realistic about their chances in Beijing: "It's always exciting, although they're all high calibre sides," Jacobs said.
Facts and figures
Steven Old (defence), Jeremy Brockie (forward).
Five games played, five games won; 19 goals scored, three conceded.
The numbers game
0: the number of times the Oly-Whites have qualified for the FIFA Men's Olympic Football Tournament in the past.
|13||Shaun VAN ROOYEN|