Olywhites need to be fearless, says coach
Olywhites coach Danny Hay says there will be no fear factor for his side at the Tokyo Olympics in July, after they were handed the kindest draw possible for the men’s football tournament.
The national under-24 men’s team, that can be boosted by up to three over-age players, learned on Wednesday night it will play South Korea, Honduras, and Romania in group B of the 16-team tournament, with the top two teams advancing to the quarterfinals.
None of those will be easy matches for the Olywhites, who have taken part in the Olympics twice, in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012, drawing once and losing twice each time, a record which makes a maiden win at this level their main aim.
But when they could have been facing France, Japan, and Mexico, had they been drawn in group A like South Africa; Argentina, Australia, and Spain; had they been drawn in group C like Egypt; or Brazil, Germany, and Saudi Arabia, had they been drawn in group D like the Ivory Coast, there was reason for Hay to be more grateful than not.
‘‘Irrespective of the names, we know that we’re going to be coming up against some very good players, and they’re going to be tactically very astute, so it’s going to be a great chance for us to test ourselves,’’ he said yesterday.
‘‘But the thing about this group of players is there’s no fear factor. We want to approach the game differently to how past New Zealand teams have wanted to. We want to try and be far more attackminded, and we want to try to take the game to opposition sides.
‘‘Yes, there will be respect, but we’re going to go out there and try to show what this group of players are actually capable of doing.’’
The Olywhites will begin their campaign on July 22 against South Korea, the winners of the Asian qualifying tournament, who are set to be their toughest opponent.
On July 25 they will then face Honduras, a team New Zealand has beaten at the last two Fifa under-20 World Cups – 3-1 in 2017 and 5-1 in 2019 – which involved players from the same age groups that will make up the bulk of the two nations’ Olympic squads.
Then on July 28, they will face Romania, who qualified by beating heavyweights England and Croatia to make the semifinals of the 2019 Uefa under-21 Championship, where their squad featured several players who aren’t eligible for the Olympics as under-24 players, having been born before January 1, 1997.
‘‘I look at the group that we’ve been drawn in, and I know for me – and I know the players will be exactly the same – we’ve got a real opportunity to create history,’’ Hay said.
‘‘First and foremost to win a game at the Olympics – that’s what we’ll be targeting, because no New Zealand men’s side has done that before – then obviously to try to get out of the group as well.’’