Manawatu Standard

Olywhites out to ‘turn heads’

- Andrew Voerman

Expectatio­n sits easy on the Olywhites, who will head into Tokyo Olympics as confident as any New Zealand men’s football team ever has been at an internatio­nal tournament.

A maiden Olympics win remains their first goal, but having been handed a kind draw for the 16-team event, they will have their sights set on a top-two finish and a place in the quarterfin­als.

First up tonight are South Korea, who qualified as Asian champions for what is mainly an under-24 event, with teams allowed up to three over-age players.

The bronze medallists in

London in 2012 will be the Olywhites’ toughest opponents, even though they haven’t been able to secure the services of their English Premier League star, Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heungmin.

Burnley striker Chris Wood and West

Ham centreback Winston Reid are on board for New Zealand, and their presence is one reason hopes will be high.

As Wood said earlier this week: ‘‘We’re quietly confident we can turn some heads’’.

The 29-year-old will anchor the Olywhites at the attacking end of the pitch while Reid, the team’s captain, will do the same at the defensive end, with the third over-age player selected by coach Danny Hay, centre back Michael Boxall, not yet in Japan, as he is recovering from a thigh injury.

Around them will be a group of players aged 24 and younger who are among the most exciting their country has ever produced and who have already made great strides on the world stage.

New Zealand men’s teams have only won eight matches at the 21 internatio­nal tournament­s they have attended, which means there won’t be a great deal of shame if they do fall short of making it out of group B this time around.

But six of those eight wins involved at least one player who is part of the current Olywhites setup – those at the 2015, 2017, and 2019 Under-20 World Cups and the

2015 and 2019 Under-17 World Cups.

Goalkeeper Michael Woud and midfielder Joe Bell were each involved in four of them and are

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