Danny Hay: Underdog Oly Whites quietly confident of success in Games opener against South Korea


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Everything seems to be in place for the Oly Whites to make a splash at the Tokyo Olympics over the coming two weeks with coach Danny Hay saying the squad is well positioned to defy its rank-outsider status.
New Zealand, the lowest-ranked country to qualify for the Olympics by a long way, gets its Games campaign underway on Thursday night against 2016 Rio bronze medallists and world No 39 South Korea. The challenge looks daunting on paper but talk within the squad instead conveys a feeling of growing belief.
"Korea were bronze medallists [at the] last Olympics for a reason," Hay told a media briefing on Tuesday.
"We've watched a lot of footage of them. They're a good side, they've got real strengths in a lot of areas. Counter-attack is one of them, they're a very, very capable team.
"You can see by their results leading into this tournament, really positive results against Argentina. [I] watched them play against France the other day, they played them off the park."
However, the time the Oly Whites have spent in Japan so far, including a win and defeat against Australia in two warm-up matches, has the players "fizzing" ahead of Thursday night.
"It's been such a long time since we've had these players as one, so the connections and the bond we've developed in this time is going to stand us in good stead as we lead in to a tough game against Korea," Hay said.
"I couldn't be happier with this group of players. The approach they've taken is doing New Zealand proud to this point."
Oly Whites coach Danny Hay congratulates his players after their warm-up victory over Australia. (Photo / Photosport)
English Premier League star Chris Wood echoed the sentiments of Hay, saying that while this squad may be unfamiliar with each other, it has incredible potential.
"There's some exciting young talent coming through and I think we're quietly confident that we can turn some heads," Wood said.
While Hay confirmed the squad in Japan is entirely injury-free, there is one key player yet to make his way to Japan that he hopes may still arrive to offer a timely boost.
Michael Boxall, currently playing for Minnesota United in the US, suffered a thigh injury at the beginning of the month that he's still battling to overcome. While Hay admitted he had the option of selecting someone in Boxall's place, he also said the wait would be worth it if he makes it to Japan.
"We're giving him as long as possible, and if that means we get him for the last group game then fantastic, it would be like bringing in a new signing," Hay said.
"He's a massive part of what we're trying to achieve. The leadership that he can show and bring towards a young group, I think is going to be vitally important.
"You look at the level he's playing at, he's in the MLS and he's considered one of the very best if not the best central defender in the league. He's a big-time player for us, hence why we're giving him as much time as we possibly can."
The young stars of the Oly Whites are set to shine in Japan. Photo / Photosport
Boxall is one of just three over-age players allowed to be selected in what is otherwise an under-24 squad. Captain Winston Reid and Chris Wood - who both compete at the highest levels in European football - are the other two veterans in the team, illustrating the level of belief Hay has in Boxall, as well as the trust he is placing in his young charges.
The Oly Whites take the field against South Korea at 8pm NZT on Thursday night.

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