Tokyo Olympics: OlyWhites' fairytale run ends with penalty shootout heartbreak against Japan

NZ football's Olympic dream has ended in heartbreak, with the OlyWhites losing their quarter-final to Japan in the most painful way possible - a penalty shootout.

After battling through 90 scoreless minutes of regulation time, plus another half hour of extra play, the Kiwis faltered 4-2 from the spot, allowing the host nation to progress into a semi-final meeting with Spain.

With injured captain Winston Reid surprisingly taking his place in the heart of the defence, New Zealand stifled the fleet-of-foot Japanese, who still managed 21 shots and four on goal, forcing goalkeeper Michael Woud into some spectacular saves.

The OlyWhites managed just eight shots and two on target, but also squandered some opportunities that never quite challenged counterpart Kosei Tani at the other end.  

Reid lasted only a few minutes into the second half, before succumbing to his faulty knee, but his team continued to frustrate the Japanese, who even subbed off their most dangerous attacker, Ritsu Doan, with penalties looming.

Into the shootout, Burnley striker Chris Wood struck first to put New Zealand ahead for the only time, with Ayase Ueda responding in kind for Japan.

But Liberato Cacace's left-footed effort was saved by Tani, Kou Itakura put his side ahead and the OlyWhites slid further behind, when Clayton Lewis fired his left-footer over the bar.

Ultimately, Japan captain Maya Yoshida slotted the penalty that put his team into the semis and left the Kiwis wondering what might have been.

Midfielder Joe Bell describes the manner of defeat as "devastating".

"The boys have been through it before, some of them," he says. "There's enough experience and intelligence in the squad to take out positions that we can grow from.

"These are opportunities for us to play at a world-class level."

New Zealand undoubtedly benefitted from a draw that put them in a softish pool and scraped through to the knockout stages on goal difference, after achieving their first-ever Olympic victory over South Korea.

But without overage players Reid and Michael Boxall - and despite Wood's enthusiastic praise for his young teammates - they fell short of the medal dream, after progressing from Olympic pool play, also for the first time.

"This group of young players, there's so much potential and it's important to remember we've only just had a few weeks together," says coach Danny Hay. "This group hasn't been like Japan, and had tens of thousands of dollars spent on them and 4-50 games under their belt together.

"We've had a couple of warm-up games and been thrown in the lion's den and I think the way the players have responded, the character they've shown, and the willingness to fulfill roles and responsibilities in the tactical plan has been quite incredible."

In other action, Kiwi sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke have taken control in the men's 49er class, putting themselves in the box seat to defend their Olympic title on Monday

Coming Sunday...

Shotputter Dame Valerie Adams represents New Zealand's best medal chance on a quiet day that also sees our equestrians and sailors advance their own podium aspirations.

Sam Meech enters the double-point Laser medal race in eighth, with an outside chance of salvaging a top-three finish.

Maddie Wesche (shotput) and Hamish Kerr (high jump) also contest athletics finals, while Megan Signal competes in women's 76kg weightlifting.


Women's hammer qualifying - Julia Ratcliffe 12:10pm NZ & Lauren Bruce 1:40pm NZ

Women's shot put final - Dame Valerie Adams & Madison-Lee Wesche 12:10pm NZ

Men's high jump final - Hamish Kerr 10pm NZ


Eventing cross-country - Jesse Campbell, Jonelle Price & Tim Price 10:45am NZ


Men's individual stroke play, round 4 - Ryan Fox 10:30am NZ


Men's Laser medal race - Sam Meech 5:33pm NZ

Men's Finn, Race 9 & 10 - Josh Junior 6:05pm NZ

Men's 470, Races 7 & 8 - Paul Snow-Hansen & Daniel Willcox 3pm NZ

Mixed Nacra 17 Foiling, Races 10, 11 & 12 - Erica Dawson & Micah Wilkinson 3:05pm NZ


Women's 76kg - Megan Signal 4:50pm NZ