Emblen to coach Oly-Whites on to Olympics

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 14:10 15/03/2012

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New Zealand under-23 men's football coach Neil Emblen was never concerned about what role he might play in the leadup to the London Olympics but says it is nice to know the top job's his till the end of the campaign.

When Emblen was appointed to the role of head coach last October, New Zealand Football chief executive Grant McKavanagh told Fairfax Media that, should New Zealand qualify, All Whites and Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert could well come in as coach after the Oceania qualifying campaign, which starts in Taupo tomorrow.

''Just depending upon what Ricki's availability is around that time, he'll be working with the team the whole way through so it makes more sense that perhaps he will come back in over the top of the Olympic team at that stage,'' McKavanagh said at the time.

''We want Neil to stand on his own two feet right now but there's a high likelihood that Ricki will have a pretty decent level of involvement, due to the fact [the All Whites and Oly Whites] basically merges into one programme.''

However, Herbert said in Australia yesterday that he would ''definitely not'' be taking over as coach of the team, should the Oly Whites qualify, rather that he would be a technical director and would work alongside Emblen, the Waitakere United coach.

''All I'm doing is concentrating on us qualifying,'' Emblen told LiveSport today as he fine-tunes his charges ahead of tomorrow's group phase opener against Frank Farina's Papua New Guinea at Owen Delany Park.

''It's nice to know the role would be taken on if we qualify, but first things first. All I want to focus on at the moment is making sure we get there.

''It (coaching situation) wasn't an issue for me, to be honest, I would love to go to the Olympic Games in any capacity. The job at hand has always been my primary focus.''

Emblen said the New Zealanders were amped for the nine-day, seven-team tournament, which will see the winner earn one of 16 spots available for the Olympic tournament in late-July, early-August in Britain.

The Kiwis are raging hot favourites to progress and despite missing several of their bigger-named under-23 players, should ease through.

They play PNG, coached by former Socceroos player and mentor Farina, tomorrow and Tonga on Tuesday in group play, with the semifinals and final next Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

''I had some individual meetings with them all yesterday and I think we all believe we've picked a good squad,'' Emblen said.

''There's a lot of confidence but obviously a lot of nervous energy, too, because we all want to do well.''

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It had been difficult to get information on PNG ahead of tomorrow's match, but he expected any team coached by Farina to be highly organised.

He wants to keep the ball on the deck as much as possible, but they'll do whatever is required to win.

- Stuff

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