Tokyo Olympics: OlyWhites break new ground for NZ football with Games quarter-final spot

As a spectacle, the OlyWhites' dour scoreless draw with Romania won't live long in the memories of diehard Kiwi football fans.

But NZ teams have produced far more attractive draws previously that have not yielded the same history this side has managed during their Tokyo Olympic campaign.

Just ask the 'invincible' 2010 World Cup All Whites.

This time, a hard-to-watch battle with the uninspired Europeans was all the New Zealand men required to progress past pool play at this level for the first time.

"It really came down to desire tonight," reflects coach Danny Hay. "The boys really dug deep and showed a lot of that.

"I'm really proud of the performance. It's historic and we look forward to a quarter-final for a New Zealand men's team."

Ultimately, the OlyWhites can thank their somewhat fortunate, opening 1-0 victory over Korea for their progress - and the Koreans' emphatic response to that early setback, putting 10 goals unanswered goals against Romania and Honduras to assist any goal-difference calculations.

In a quirk of the game that is football, the Kiwis' least convincing performance brought their best result - and first Olympic win - but they could have avoided any late tension, if they hadn't squandered their chance for another against the Central Americans.

In the end, NZ finished tied with Romania on the table, but advanced on the countback to book a meeting with hosts Japan on Saturday. 

They managed 11 shots against their rivals' seven, even though the Romanians were on target with three. After his villainous role in the capitulation to Honduras, goalkeeper Michael Woud redeemed himself with a couple of invaluable saves that saw his team through.

"One game does not define a player's career," insists Hay. "I think we're all aware Michael is a goalkeeper of huge potential and it's easy to forget he's only 22.

"Yes, he made some mistakes against Honduras, but I thought he showed what level of resilience he's got. I think Michael's performance was a reflection of how his teammates have helped him through the last couple of days."

Resilience seems something this team possesses in spades, after losing veteran defender Michael Boxall and then skipper Winston Reid to injury, but rallying behind the leadership of star striker Chris Wood.

"Getting to the quarter-finals is fantastic," says Wood, 29, who also represented his country at the 2012 London Olympics. "It's a great achievement for us as a team and a country - we're very pleased and proud.

"Playing with this team is something special and something different. Now New Zealand team has played football the way these guys can and if they keep believing, they can play even better football.

"It's a team full of potential."

Another to hint at his abilities late Wednesday night was swimmer Lewis Clareburt, who also hoped to bury any lurking doubts, after a disastrous final final lap saw him slip from second to seventh in the 400m individual medley final three days earlier.

In the 200m IM heats, he broke his own national record with 1m 57.27s to qualify third fastest for Thursday's semi-finals, rekindling hopes he may deliver on his medal promise at Tokyo.

Coming Thursday...

New Zealand begins today's competition with three medals to its name, after the All Blacks Sevens, and double scullers Brooke Donoghue and Hannah Osborne all took silver medals on Wednesday.

They joined a medal count that already featured Hayden Wilde's triathlon bronze from Monday.

On Thursday, Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast are our best shot at medals, when the world recordholders contest the rowing pair final at 12:30pm NZ. Single sculler Emma Twigg takes superb form into her semi-final at 1:50pm, the Black Ferns Sevens open their campaign against Kenya at 2:30pm, swimmer Lewis Clareburt aims for the 200m individual medley final at 3:08pm, while Daniell & Venus face Croatia in their tennis doubles semi at 6pm.


Women's racing quarter-finals - Rebecca Petch 1:21pm NZ


Women's C1 slalom semis & final - Luuka Jones 5:21pm & 6:55pm NZ


Men's individual stroke play, round 1 - Ryan Fox 11:52am NZ


Women's Pool B - Black Sticks v Australia 12:15am (July 30) NZ


Men's pair final B - Brook Robertson & Stephen Jones 11:30am NZ

Women's pair final A - Grace Prendergast & Kerri Gowler 12:30pm NZ

Women's single sculls semi-finals A/B - Emma Twigg 1:50pm NZ

Men's single sculls semi-final C/D - Jordan Parry 2:50pm NZ


Men's Laser, Races 7 & 8 - Sam Meech 3:05pm NZ

Mixed Nacra 17, Races 4, 5, & 6 - Erica Dawson & Micah Wilkinson 3:05pm NZ

Men's 49er, Races 5 & 6 - Peter Burling & Blair Tuke 3:05pm NZ 

Men's Finn, Races 5 & 6 - Josh Junior 5:35pm NZ

Men's 470, Races 3 & 4 - Paul Snow-Hansen & Daniel Willcox 6:05pm NZ

Peter Burling & Blair Tuke in 49er action
Peter Burling & Blair Tuke in 49er action. Photo credit: Photosport


Women's pool round - Black Ferns Sevens v Kenya 2:30pm NZ

Women's pool round - Black Ferns Sevens v Great Britain 9:30pm NZ


Women's trap qualifying 2 & finals - Natalie Rooney noon & 5:30pm NZ


Men's 200m individual semi-finals - Lewis Clareburt 3:08pm NZ

Women's 800m freestyle heats - Eve Thomas 10pm NZ

Women's 200m backstroke heats - Ali Galyer 11:16pm NZ


Men's doubles semi-finals - Marcus Daniell & Michael Venus v Cilic/Dodig (Croatia) 6pm NZ