O'Keeffe plays starring role

19:48, Jul 31 2012
Michael O'Keeffe
Belarus attack the NZ goal: From left for New Zealand are Tommy Smith, Michael O'Keefe and Adam McGeorge

Oly-Whites goalkeeper Michael O'Keeffe is in the zone.

Late Sunday night/early Monday morning (NZT), the 21-year-old Marlburian played a starring role between the sticks to help New Zealand to a 1-1 draw in their second pool game of the Olympics against Egypt in Manchester.

Considering it was his error which eventually proved the difference in the opening 1-0 loss to Belarus, the way he bounced back and stood up against the constant flow of Egyptian pressure bearing down on his goal was outstanding.

Despite his superb display, O'Keeffe was still bitterly disappointed to concede a goal against Egypt and said it was an intense focus which allowed him to "make a couple more saves".

Playing in front of over 50,000 people, easily the biggest audience of his young career and at arguably the most famous football stadium in the world, it was not until the end of the game the enormity of the occasion finally hit him.

"Obviously [playing at Old Trafford] was a great feeling, but, to be honest, I didn't even notice it during the game. You're totally zoned out from it all - it didn't hit me until after the game when I looked up in the stands. That's when I realised, ‘Holy crap, this is Old Trafford'.

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"It was nice to be able to make a couple more saves for the team, but still it was disappointing to let in a goal. I was just happy I did the basics well and did what was asked of me."

The Oly-Whites must produce what would be one of, if not the biggest, upsets in NZ football history if they are to advance to the quarterfinals. A star-studded Brazilian outfit await in their final pool match at 1.30am tomorrow (NZT) and only a win will send the Kiwis through.

As was the case prior to the first two games, O'Keeffe was unsure if he would be handed the starting role and said the injury to his fellow gloveman, Jake Gleeson, was always improving.

Given the impressive form the Marlborough product has shown he has put forward a strong case to start regardless.

Either way, O'Keeffe will not be changing anything about his preparation and is looking forward to the prospect of facing one of the powerhouses of world football.

"[Jake] seems to be coming along all right, but it's still day-by-day and I'm just trying to keep working hard and doing what I do," he said.

"It's just another outside thing I don't really get too involved in really, I just focus on myself and prepare as best I can.

"[Playing against Brazil] would be absolutely insane, I can't really explain it any other way."

The Marlborough Express