Oly-Whites wait on Gleeson for Belarus clash
The Oly-Whites expect injured goalkeeper Jake Gleeson to be part of the squad for Friday's opening Olympic Games clash with Belarus but Marlborough's Michael O'Keeffe may still get the start.
New Zealand head coach Neil Emblen said from Coventry he would wait 24 hours before making a final decision on Gleeson, who left the field with a groin strain in the July 17 warm-up match against South Korea in Seoul.
"The way he's recovering, I think he would have a good chance of being 100 per cent fit,'' Emblen said.
Gleeson trained with the Oly-Whites in Coventry and was "diving about'', trying to prove to Emblen and assistant Chris Zoricich that he was ready to meet Belarus.
But, the final selection nod could come down to whether Gleeson is able to kick the ball comfortably. Emblen said kicking was "such an important part of a keeper's game'' now.
The Oly-Whites brought Wellington goalkeeper Scott Basalaj to London on standby for Gleeson.
But Emblen now looks likely to name Gleeson and O'Keeffe for the Belarus game in full confidence United States-based Gleeson will be fit for the pool play games against Egypt and Brazil if he cannot start in the tournament opener.
"If he can be 100 per cent fit a couple of days later that might be something we look at.
"If we take Jake out of this game, Jake's competition would be over and Scott would have to be in [for the rest of the tournament].''
Emblen said he had full confidence in O'Keeffe, who had "never looked flustered'' since taking over from Gleeson against Korea and in starting the final build-up game against the United Arab Emirates.
"Michael's just go this air about him, nothing seems to faze him. He sets very high standards and doesn't want to let anything get past him.''
He said O'Keeffe, who left Marlborough to play national league football with Canterbury United before accepting a football scholarship at Fairfield University in Connecticut was "ready for the big occasion''.
Emblen said he did not think in terms of "having a No 1 or a No 2 keeper'' because he had faith in both custodians.
The Oly-Whites are still sweating on right back Adam Thomas' fitness. Emblen said the Waikato United captain had "a niggly thigh'' but Thomas is still hoping to cement his place in the back-four alongside All Whites captain Ryan Nelsen and his deputy Tommy Smith and specialist left back Ian Hogg.
"There's still a question mark at right back and another question mark on who will play the holding role in midfield out of Tim Payne, Alex Feneridis and Adam McGeorge.''
But Emblen said the Oly-Whites line-up was largely settled and he had been impressed with his attacking players at training.
Kosta Barbarouses and Marco Rojas had both "looked sharp'' on the flanks with Chris Wood settling.