Monday 07 October 2019, 04:22

New Zealand impress en route to Japan

  • New Zealand qualified for Tokyo 2020 after missing Rio 2016

  • Their third Men’s Olympic Football Tournament qualification

  • New Zealand remained unbeaten to secure passage in style

New Zealand are yet to win a match at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, but their performances at the OFC qualifying tournament and beyond suggests the current crop are ready to mark their mark.

The New Zealanders won their ticket to Tokyo 2020 with a thumping 5-0 win over Solomon Islands in Saturday’s continental decider, a performance which coach Des Buckingham described as “perfect”. It continues a strong run of form from NZ’s U-23 side which includes an unbeaten four-match tour of Australia, and victory at the Pacific Games over senior national teams.

Qualification also casts aside some of the pain of four years ago, when Fiji represented Oceania at Rio 2016 after the Kiwis’ qualification ended at the semi-final stage having fielded an ineligible player. New Zealand, whose women’s side qualified for Tokyo 2020 in late 2018, join European quartet France, Germany, Romania and Spain, plus hosts Japan, at next year’s Olympiad.

Played in Suva and Lautoka in Fiji, the eight-nation qualification tournament drew all of Oceania’s eligible nations, aside from Cook Islands.

Vanuatu edged out the hosts to top Group B, although both qualified for the semi-finals. New Zealand won the other group with a hard-fought 4-2 victory over Solomon Islands in what was to be a portent of the tournament decider.

The Kiwis proceeded to demolish Fiji 6-1 in their semi-final, while the Solomons also advanced in contrasting fashion thanks to a single strike from their top-scorer Augustine Waita.

The final, in contrast to the group-stage match between New Zealand and Solomon Islands, proved to be a one-sided affair. Myer Bevan nabbed a double in a 5-0 win to finish with 12 of New Zealand’s 33 goals.

New Zealand’s previous two experiences at the Olympic Games yielded draws against China PR (2008) and Egypt (2012).

With numerous key personnel missing from the qualifying tournament, and with the core of the playing group having featured at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019, New Zealand are well placed to take the next step.

“The culture that has been created and developed has been a huge positive to our on field performances, and you only need to speak to the players about the enjoyment and success it has bought both on and off the field,” said Buckingham, who led New Zealand at Poland 2019.

“We [at Poland 2019] had historically been a team that was always out possessed, out passed, out shot and out scored on average. After the World Cup we are now a team that out possesses, out passes, out shoots and out scores our opponents on the world stage and the manner in which we won the final to qualify for the Olympics was a complete example of it.

“If we can continue to develop what I would now call our international playing style, our environment and team culture, we can continue to have success with our players and teams.”