Oly-Whites not ready to raise white flag yet
Ryan Nelsen's resolve has spread through the Oly-Whites with his young teammates refusing to dismiss their chances of beating Egypt at one of the world's most famous football grounds.
The Kiwis lost 1-0 to Belarus in Coventry in their opening game of the Olympic Games tournament despite Nelsen lauding their play as some most positive and promising he had seen in his 15-year involvement with New Zealand national teams.
Now the Oly-Whites must beat African continent powerhouse Egypt early tomorrow at Manchester United's Old Trafford Stadium to have any hope of advancing to the second round.
Eygpt lost 3-2 to star-studded Brazil on Friday with coach Hany Ramzy claiming defensive errors cost his team, which trailed 3-0 after half an hour.
"I am 100 per cent sure we will be better defensively [against New Zealand],'' Ramzy vowed. "We will study our performance and make sure we improve.''
But some key New Zealand players were also talking up their chances.
"We have got to get something from our next match against Egypt,'' said Nelsen, who felt the Oly-Whites "should be okay if we play like we did [against Belarus].
"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, whether it's a draw or a win. And, we've obviously got an easier game in our last game against Brazil,'' Nelsen quipped.
All Whites vice-captain Tommy Smith said the Oly-Whites had to go into the Egypt game "with hopes of getting all three points.''
Goalkeeper Michael O'Keeffe, who made several superb saves but committed a clanger for Belarus' goal, said he had to put the error behind him to focus on Egypt.
If he gets the chance.
Coach Neil Emblen defended O'Keeffe manfully but may yet opt to start the more experienced Jake Gleeson if he recovers completely from a pre-tournament groin injury.
Emblen said Gleeson had been physically ready for the Belarus game but was not kicking freely and was not risked.
"We hope by giving Jake this extra couple of days, he'll be ready [for Egypt].''
Pressure will be on Oly-Whites striker Chris Wood to convert his chances. The West Bromwich Albion striker is a force on the ball but he was wasteful against Belarus and must start to hit the target as regularly as fellow forward Shane Smeltz.
The Egyptians have an entirely home-based squad with three over-age players, including captain and striker Mohamed Aboutrika, the African player of the year in 2008. His duel with English premier Nelsen could be pivotal.
Aboutrika felt Egypt "gave too much respect to Brazil because they are Brazil''. But he vowed: "The next game we will be better because we will play like Egypt''.
The Old Trafford match is unlikely to draw the 72,126 audience for Great Britain's 1-1 draw with Senegal on Friday. But it will be a fantastic experience for the young Kiwis. Only Nelsen, in his Blackburn Rovers derby days, has played a major match there.
Oly-Whites (possible): Jake Gleeson, Adam Thomas, Ryan Nelsen, Tommy Smith, Ian Hogg, Marco Rojas, Michael McGlinchey, Tim Payne, Kosta Barbarouses, Shane Smeltz, Chris Wood.