Soccer: Goalkeeping mistake costs Oly Whites

By Michael Brown

Goalkeeping can be a lonely existence and it would have felt like that for New Zealand under-23 'keeper Michael O'Keefe after conceding a horrible goal that cost his side a result against Belarus in their Olympic opener.

It was a terrible shame because he had an otherwise good game and it was the big talking point in a game in which the Oly Whites played some of the best football by a New Zealand side at a major competition.

They played crisp, confident football, especially in the opening 30 minutes, and the interplay by the likes of Chris Wood, Shane Smeltz, Kosta Barbarouses and Marco Rojas even impressed the decent crowd of 14,500 at the City of Coventry Stadium.

It was an experienced side, with nine of the starting 11 full internationals and it showed.

But New Zealand teams often struggle to press home an advantage - the women's side were guilty of that in the opening 15 minutes against Great Britain yesterday - and they paid a costly price on the stroke of halftime.

They gifted a needless corner and then O'Keefe flapped horribly at the cross and allowed Dmitry Baga to nod in simply at the far post.

It was a cruel blow not only in the game but also the Oly Whites' chances of progressing out of their group at these Olympics. They knew they needed to get a result in this match if they are to make the last eight and it meant they had to chase the game.

"I'm obviously disappointed with the result but I was happy with the way we played," coach Neil Emblen said. "I thought we were brave in possession, we created chances, but we couldn't get that goal.

"That goal before halftime, young Michael has held his hand up for. It wasn't a goal they really created, it was one we've given away. All of a sudden the game changed, Belarus had something to hold onto, and they were a bit better in the second half."

New Zealand weren't helped by a referee who somehow found reason enough to book Tommy Smith in the first 31 seconds for touching 1.88m behemoth of a striker Sergei Kornilenko with two fingers - he fell to the turf writhing in pain - but refused to yield a card to some of the Belarusians' more unsavoury tactics. It set the tone for the match and created a tension between the two sides that saw words exchanged in various dialects.

New Zealand had their chances. Wood's close-range header from a corner was just too close to the goalkeepeer, Rojas' dipping shot was tipped over the bar and Wood skied his shot over the bar when played in on goal.

Belarus grew as the match wore on and New Zealand tired and O'Keefe pulled off three tremendous saves in the final 20 minutes but New Zealand teams have played a lot worse in big games and earned a better result.

Neil Emblen's side will need to beat Egypt on Monday morning to have any chance of progressing with their final game is against Brazil who beat Egypt 3-2 today.

- APNZ

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