The New Zealand men’s football team bowed out of the Olympics in the cruellest possible way today.

After New Zealand and Japan were locked at 0-0 through fulltime and then through an extra half-hour of their quarter-final, the match went to a penalty shootout.

New Zealand began the shootout well with a goal by Chris Wood, but while Japan knocked in four goals in succession, two New Zealanders – Liberato Cacace and Clayton Lewis – were unable to convert. New Zealand’s fourth kicker, Callum McCowatt was successful, but it was too late and Japan won the shootout 4-2.

It was a most unfortunate way for a very successful New Zealand football campaign to end.

They were the first football team from New Zealand to advance beyond the Olympic qualifying group stages.

Overall Japan created more chances during the 120 minutes of play – 21 shots at goal compared to New Zealand’s 8 - but it was noticeable that New Zealand came on strong, stringing passes together better later in the game and starting to create genuine chances.

Japan had problems getting past New Zealand goalie Michael Woud. After his forgettable match against Honduras last week, Woud was under considerable pressure, but he was magnificent, saving one shot at point blank range and denying likely Japan intrusions on several other occasions.

It is notable that New Zealand kept a clean scoresheet in three of their matches at the Olympics, and to do so against Japan, who scored seven goals in their three qualifying matches, was extremely commendable.

So New Zealand finished with a 1-0 victory over Korea, a 3-2 loss to Honduras, a 0-0 draw with Romania and a 0-0 draw with Japan (and a loss in a penalty shootout).

They won friends for their competitiveness and work ethic, and overall have pushed the cause of New Zealand football forward considerably.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games
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