When Tim Payne takes the field at Tokyos national Stadium on Wednesday night for New Zealands U-23 against their Japanese counterparts it will complete a whirlwind 12 months in which the 18 year old has represented New Zealand at every level available. The Olympic warm up against fellow Olympic finalists comes one year and 12 days since Payne and his U-17 teammates were eliminated from the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico, at the hands of Japan in a one sided Round of 16 match. Payne was one of the star turns of a campaign that saw the Young All Whites thrash Uzbekistan, draw with USA and run the Czech Republic close in a narrow defeat, helping him earn a successful trial at Blackburn Rovers and also win a place in the Junior All Whites U-20 World Cup campaign in Colombia. For a teenager who says his aim after Mexico was to finish off his final year at Aucklands Sacred Heart College and then look overseas, two age-group World Cups would have been enough to digest but there has been a steady supply of highlights since. The now-England based attacking midfielder reached the FA Youth Cup final with Blackburns academy, made his All Whites debut in the recent win over Honduras followed by three more caps for the national team at the OFC Nations Cup before being named in the Olympic squad for London. The past year has gone by so quickly, Payne says. When I think back to the start of the under 17s to where I am right now and everything thats happened its a dream come true. Having played for the All Whites is every young kiwi footballers dream so its been a big year for me. Any chance to represent New Zealand is a proud moment and going to age group World Cups is a pretty cool experience. Playing for the different teams in just over a year something Ill look back on and think how lucky I was at some stages and how cool its been. Long-term, Payne says being part of an All Whites team that qualifies for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is high on his list of targets, but more immediately he and his Oly Whites team mates are aiming to get out of an Olympic group featuring Belarus, Egypt and Brazil. Preparations for that mission enter a new phase for Neil Emblens charges against Japan, with the initial focus on gelling together a squad where only half have been involved in the campaign so far. Like Payne, All Whites Cameron Howieson and Michael McGlinchey will make their Olympic team debut against Japan and while the likes of Shane Smeltz, Ryan Nelsen and Kosta Barbarouses will be used to hitting the ground running on international duty, some new combinations will need to be forged with younger New Zealand-based players. Emblen will be without the services of West Brom striker Chris Wood and Ipswich Town defender Tommy Smith who join the team in Korea for their next warm up match while Marco Rojas arrives in Tokyo on the morning of the match. Tim Myers is suffering from virus while Dakota Lucas is carrying a knock on his ankle. Were juggling things at the moment, said Emblen after the sides first training session together. We havent got the full quota of players available yet and the focus is giving everyone enough time to make sure were ready to go against Belarus on July 26. Japan is a very important game for us. Its important to start the programme well but its not the be all and end all given what lies ahead. Well play it a bit safe to begin with and pay Japan that respect. We saw their senior side against Australia recently and they were exceptional. Well try and get comfortable in the match and then build on that as it progresses. The match kicks off at 10.55pm on Wednesday night with coverage on Sky Sport 3 from 10.30pm. New Zealand v Japan National Stadium, Tokyo, Japan Wednesday 11 July, 7.55pm (10.55pm NZT) Live on Sky Sport 3 from 10.30pm London 1908 Olympic Summer Games Football
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