New Zealand Olympic men’s football coach Neil Emblen admits there is much work to be done before the Olympics despite a 1-1 draw against Japan in Tokyo on Wednesday night.
A well-taken goal from late substitute Dakota Lucas in the fourth minute of time added on gave a balanced look to the scoresheet following Kenyu Sugimoto’s 71st minute opener and a dominant display by the home side.
The equaliser, set up by Kosta Barbarouses who worked back to pinch the ball off a Japanese defender before teeing up Lucas – aided by a Marco Rojas stepover – was a rare shot on target for the Oly Whites who spent most of the night putting in a dogged defensive shift led by captain Ryan Nelsen.
Goalkeeper Jake Gleeson was busy but dependable in goal and was unfortunate that his save from Yuhei Tokunaga’s daisy cutter fell into the path of Sugimoto for the home side’s goal.
Emblen had close to his full Olympic squad at his disposal for the first time with overage players Shane Smeltz and Michael McGlinchey joining Nelsen in the line up although he was still missing front line All Whites Chris Wood and Tommy Smith who meet the team in Korea for Saturday’s second warm up match.
With a testing match under their belts, Emblen was happy to know what now needed to be done before the team meet Belarus on July 26.
“We were given a footballing lesson tonight not just in the way Japan played through the thirds but also in the way they closed down and pressed,” Emblen said.
“There was some good goalkeeping and last ditch defending on our part as well as some gilt edged misses on theirs– we rode our luck a bit.
“The boys looked rusty but I thought we showed that dogged New Zealand spirit and we’ve shown that we are hard to beat but we need to add some quality to that now while keeping that mentality.
“Our ball retention and speed of pass must improve but we have at least some time and a page of things to work on – this morning that page was blank.
New Zealand’s next Olympic warm up is on Saturday night against South Korea in Seoul, with the Football Ferns playing their first warm up match against Canada in Switzerland later that night.
Japan 1 (Kenyu SUGIMOTO 71’)
New Zealand 1 (Dakota LUCAS 90+4’)
National Stadium, Tokyo, Japan
New Zealand: 1-Jake GLEESON (GK), 2-Tim PAYNE, 3-Ian HOGG, 6-Ryan NELSEN (Captain / 16-Dakota LUCAS 84’) 7-Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8-Michael McGLINCHEY, 9-Shane SMELTZ (11-Marco ROJAS 88’), 12-Adam THOMAS (4-Tim MYERS 80’), 13-Alex FENERIDIS, 14-James MUSA, 17-Adam McGEORGE (15-Cameron HOWIESON 66’).
Substitutes not used: 18-Michael O'KEEFFE (RGK).
Coach: Neil EMBLEN
Cautions: 6-Ryan NELSEN 56’, 13-Alex FENERIDIS 63’
Japan: 1-Shuichi GONDA (GK), 2-Yuhei TOKUNAGA, 3-Takahiro OGIHARA (21-Takuji YONEMOTO 76’), 4-Hiroki SAKAI, 7-Yuki OTSU, 8-Kazuya YAMAMURA, 10-Keigo HIGASHI (9-Kenyu SUGIMOTO 55’), 11-Kensuke NAGAI (19-Ryohei YAMAZAKI 70’), 13-Daisuke SUZUKI, 16-Hotaru YAMAGUCHI (6-Taisuke MURAMATSU 63’), 17-Hiroshi KIYOTAKE (15-Manabu SAITO 81’).
Substitutes not used: 5-Maya YOSHIDA, 12-Gotoku SAKAI, 14-Takashi USAMI, 18-Shunsuke ANDO (GK).
Coach: Takashi SEKIZUKA
Cautions: 16-Hotaru YAMAGUCHI 38’