Improved Oly-Whites ready to test Brazil

TONY SMITH
Last updated 15:32 31/07/2012
Marco Rojas and Kosta Barbarouses
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ

IMPROVED ATTACK: New Zealand's Marco Rojas and Kosta Barbarouses listen to the national anthem.

Oly-Whites gallery
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Tommy Smith of New Zealand and Emad Meteab of Egypt battle for the ball.

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Form midfielder Kosta Barbarouses insists the Oly-Whites have made major strides since their last humbling by Brazil at the Olympic Games tournament.

New Zealand meet Brazil in Newcastle on Thursday, needing victory to advance to the quarterfinals.

The enormity of their task is reflected in the last result between the two nations at Olympic level. Brazil thrashed New Zealand 5-0 at the Beijing tournament in 2008.

But Barbarouses, who narrowly missed selection for Beijing after scoring four goals in the qualifying rounds, believes the New Zealand under-23 team has improved markedly since 2008.

"[Brazil] are always favourite, but I think we've come a long way since then. [But] they've always got that unpredictability so we will see what happens.''

Barbarouses said the Oly-Whites would have to "grind through more than we did'' in the 1-1 draw with Egypt on Monday morning, "and just hope for the best.''

The 22-year-old Barbarouses has been one of the Oly-Whites' best at the Olympic tournament. He was sharp on attack against Egypt but also impressed with his cover defence down the left flank, where he helped out fullback Ian Hogg counter the attacking threat posed by overlapping right back Ahmed Fathi.

Barbarouses has benefited from his professional experience at Brisbane Roar and in Russia before negotiating his latest move to Greek club Panathinaikos.

Oly-Whites captain Ryan Nelsen has hailed Barbarouses' performances against Belarus and Egypt.

"He's been fantastic [in games and] in training he's been brilliant,'' Nelsen said.  "He's an older guy in the team now, even though he's pretty young.

"His performances in both games have been amazing. He's improving e very years as a player since I've known him as a young kid to now. He's matured and he's got a big future.''

Barbarouses and Rojas gave the Oly-Whites vital width on the flanks and coach Neil Emblen believes his two wingers can trouble any defence.

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