The Oly-Whites are refusing to throw in the Olympic Games towel despite having to beat a side skipper Ryan Nelsen describes as "a freak show'' of talent - Brazil.
A Chris Wood goal and some do-or-die defending by Nelsen and his back-four and star goalkeeper Michael O'Keeffe earned the Oly-Whites a 1-1 draw with Egypt at Manchester United's Old Trafford ground early today.
New Zealand now have to upset Brazil at Newcastle on Thursday and require Belarus to beat Egypt for the Oly-Whites to advance to the quarterfinals.
Coach Neil Emblen said the All Whites had to "hope we have the game of our lives and they have an off-day'' but he conceded his charges "probably had to win'' against Egypt to maximise their chances of a top-eight place.
Emblen said Brazil's 3-1 win over Belarus at Old Trafford meant New Zealand, Egypt and the Belarusians all "have a chance of going through in second place''.
All three have one point from two games, behind Brazil, who have six and have scored six goals while conceding three.
But Emblen knows the enormity of the task confronting his young group.
"Yes, we have the hardest fixture, we'd need Egypt to beat Belarus and hoping the goal difference [allows New Zealand to sneak through].
"There's a lot of hoping to do,'' quipped Emblen, who wants the Oly-Whites to enjoy playing "in such a prestigious game''.
No-one in the football world will give the New Zealanders any chance at Brazil - especially the 66,212 at Old Trafford, who watched Alexandre Pato, Neymar and Oscar net classical Brazilian goals against Belarus.
But few would have wagered on Emblen's young men pinching a point against Egypt, perennial winners of Africa's Cup of Nations.
"We will go in and do our best,'' Nelsen said. "But that Brazil team is a freak show of a team. It's one of the best squads [in the world], let alone at under-23, but senior level. ''
Brazil boast Pato, the AC Milan striker, Paris Saint-Germain defender Thiago Silva, Manchester United fullback Rafael - a crowd favourite - and Nelsen's erstwhile Tottenham Hotspur teammate Sandro and Marcelo from Real Madrid as well as Fiorentina goalkeeper Neto.
Neither Nelsen or Emblen felt the Oly-Whites played as well as they did in the 1-0 loss to Belarus at Coventry on Friday (NZ time).
But Nelsen said, "with the quality we have up top'' in the New Zealand forward-line, it "always felt we were in with a chance'' while the score remained 1-0 or 1-1.
In the end, it was an amazing last seven to eight minutes ... anyone could have scored. They could have scored two or three and we had a really good chance as well, in the end both teams could walk way regretting they didn't get more out of the game,'' Nelsen said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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