Tokyo Olympics 2021: Coach Danny Hay confident OlyWhites can escape group play

Danny Hay is taking up the OlyWhites’ medal chances at the Tokyo Olympics, aiming to create a piece of history later this year.

Reflecting on a somewhat favorable draw for the 16-team tournament, the New Zealand coach is cautious, but optimistic his side can cause an upset or two.

The OlyWhites have been drawn against Honduras, Romania and South Korea, avoiding some of the big names of world football. 

Hay wants to attack the task head-on, as he looks to guide New Zealand beyond group play for the first time at the Games. 

"I have a strong belief in this group of players and a strong belief in the way we want to play," Hay tells Newshub. "We want to create history.

“Historically, New Zealand sides have gone to big tournaments and scraped the odd draw, but we want to go there, win a game and hopefully get out of the group. 

"We are backing ourselves."

Relieved at dodging the likes of Argentina, Spain, France and Brazil, Hay is still wary of the challenge that awaits.

South Korea could have Premier League superstar Son Heung-Min in their squad, while Romania pipped the likes of Italy, Netherlands and England to advance to Tokyo.

But Hay sees Honduras as a potential banana skin, after they knocked out a world-class United States side in qualification.

"Whilst we may not have the glamor of some of the big names in the game - the likes of Spain, Argentina or Brazil - teams like Honduras, qualifying out of a tough CONCACAF region, beating a very good United States side, says a lot about them.

"There won't be an easy game - they will all be difficult - but I'm just excited, having had such a long, enforced hiatus, thanks to the pandemic. It'll be great to get the players together and get to work."

Most of that squad will consist of players aged 23 and under, with three spots left open for full internationals. 

Hay has a plethora of talent, playing all around the globe to fill those spots. Winston Reid, Kosta Barbarouses, Chris Wood, Marco Rojas and Ryan Thomas could all be called on, although Hay says that decision will be made once he selects the bulk of the squad. 

"Those three players are going to be critical to our success - just the leadership they will bring to the group - so we are working towards getting the three best players suited to influence that group of players, so they can help take us as far as we can go."

Hay won't have much time to prepare his troops, with the squad likely to meet as a group in Tokyo just two weeks before the tournament.

While no warm-up games have been announced, the former Leeds United defender hopes to book one or two friendlies against other sides looking for high-level preparation. 

But Hay is confident a squad that includes Sarpreet Singh, Liberato Cacace, Elijah Just and Callum McCowattt can go deep in Japan. 

"With having such a long, enforced break - the best part of two years - it's vital we make the most of that time together and have an opportunity to play a couple of matches, as we lead into our first game.

"We have a lot of good, young talented players emerge all over the world during the last few years.

"While we haven't been able to get together as a group in the last two years, watching those players evolve and develop in those environments has been great. 

"It's an exciting time for football in New Zealand."