Oly-Whites look to bounce back from loss
Ryan Nelsen, not a player prone to exaggeration, described the Oly-Whites' style of football in their 1-0 loss to Belarus as the best he had ever seen from a New Zealand football team.
But he said his young team-mates learned a valuable lesson as they eye a must-win match against Egypt on Monday - ignore the basics and face the consequences.
New Zealand dominated large parts of their Olympic Games opener, mixing composure on the ball with timely runs, good combinations and a skill level befitting a team which has nine of its starting 11 capped at senior All Whites level.
They played football with a freedom and comfort rarely seen by New Zealand teams at international level but, for all their efforts, they failed to capitalise.
And they paid the price.
“It's just a bitter disappointment that we played a style of football which was the best I've ever seen a New Zealand team play, and sadly we didn't get a result," said captain Nelsen, one of three players over the age of 23 permitted in each men's Olympic squad.
“Belarus are an extremely good team, and the boys came out with a lot of confidence, they played the ball around and stuck to the game plan. We've had nowhere near the preparation other teams have had, so to be that brave on this stage is commendable to those young players," Nelsen said.
“Unfortunately you can get caught up with all the romanticism of playing good football and creating chances but generally it's the basics that cost you at this level, and unfortunately it was a basic mistake that cost us.”
For all the good goalkeeper Michael O'Keefe, 21, a replacement for injured No 1 Jake Gleeson, did against Belarus, he will be remembered in this match for horribly misjudging a corner that gave a simple goal to Dmitry Baga in first-half stoppage time.
“We'll learn a lot from this game; we'll learn that potentially if we stay sharp in the mind and eliminate mistakes, we can get something from Egypt," said Nelsen, who was quick to scoff at suggestions their Olympic campaign was already over.
“No, no, no, no. Nothing like that. We take confidence from this game, the boys are disappointed, of course, because when you play that well you generally expect to get something out of the game.
"But football's a cruel game.
“I look at the young guys and what they were asked to go through with the lack of preparation, the travel [they went to Tokyo, Seoul, London and Austria and back to London in the two weeks preceding the Olympics], it was an extremely difficult task to play against top opposition like Belarus.
“I think we shocked a few people in the stadium with the style we played. We're known for being gritty and determined but I think there was a bit of style and grace to our play, and generally I don't think you can say that about New Zealand teams.”
Coach Neil Emblen, who insisted they would continue to improve technically and play a more attractive brand than New Zealand teams are known for, said: “When your game plan goes well and you don't get the result, that's sickening.
"We have to just dust ourselves off and get ready for Egypt.”
He said Gleeson (groin injury) was worried about the kicking part of his game, and O'Keefe's form in training meant he'd have no issues starting him again if required.