New Zealand made their debut at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament four years ago in Beijing. The Oly White had a mixed experience opening with a 1-1 draw against China PR, with the hosts denying the Kiwis victory thanks only to an equaliser two minutes from time. There followed a 5-0 capitulation against Brazil, with the New Zealanders displaying trademark spirit to bounce back in their final match against Belgium, only to suffer a 1-0 defeat against the eventual semi-finalists.
New Zealand football has enjoyed significant growth in recent years, a fact reflected with impressive performances in 2011 by New Zealand’s two youth teams at their respective FIFA tournaments. Now the class of 2012 will have the opportunity to shine in front of a watching world under coach Neil Emblen. London 2012 will be a homecoming of sorts for the Englishman who has impressed in recent years with his work as a player/coach in the domestic national league at Auckland-based Waitakere United.
Opponents who think they are in for an easy ride against New Zealand are mistaken. Unlike some previous generations of New Zealand teams, the current crop does not lack goalscorers or creative players. The Kiwis may have achieved relatively modest results in qualifying but the side on that occasion was shorn of several high-profile personnel. Unavailable were two stars of the nation’s surprise showing at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in English-based duo Tommy Smith and Chris Wood. Also absent was attacker Kosta Barbarouses as well as dynamic wide player Marco Rojas, who suffered injury on the eve of the March qualifiers.
Facts and figures
Jacob Spoonley, Aaron Scott, Jeremy Brockie
Tommy Smith (defender), Marco Rojas (forward), Kosta Barbarouses (midfielder), Chris Wood (forward)
A side shorn of several key players endured a curious qualifying campaign scoring a total of 15 goals in their four matches, although ten came in the group match against Tonga. The Kiwis won three of three matches by a single goal, including a torrid final against Fiji.
The numbers game
1 – New Zealand will be looking to build significantly on their one goal in Olympic competition, scored by Jeremy Brockie four years ago against China PR.
|13||Shaun VAN ROOYEN|