Following New Zealand’s failure to qualify for the 2016 Games in Rio, young All White midfielder Clayton Lewis is more determined than ever not the let his chance to represent his country in Tokyo slip.
The 22-year-old, who was part of the New Zealand U-23 team’s last campaign four years ago in Papua New Guinea, is an integral part of the Des Buckingham’s current squad at the OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifier tournament hosted by Fiji, on their quest of securing Oceania’s only spot up for grabs for next year’s Games in Japan.
“I was at the last Olympic Qualifier and we’ve had a really disappointing end to that but I’m lucky enough to be here again,” Lewis said.
I think when you sit back and think about these opportunities you just dream of it, you dream of going to the Olympics and I will do anything in my power to get there,” added the midfielder.
New Zealand have already secured their place in next week’s semi-finals with a match day to spare, and Friday’s final Group A match against the Solomon Islands to decide top spot in Group A is another opportunity for Lewis to make an impression on his coach.
Following stand out performances in New Zealand’s two draws against Australia in the lead up to the OFC Qualifier, the midfielder made most of his opportunity of being included in the starting line up in Tuesday’s 12-nil victory over American Samoa.
“I think scoring goals is a big part of what makes footballers happy, so I was happy to score those two goals but it’s the team performance I’m happy with,” he said.
“The first took a little deflection but the second one I hit quite clean which was good. Des (Buckingham) told me at half-time I’ve had 10-15 minutes to try to get my hat-trick.
“I didn’t really get any opportunities to score my third one but I’m happy to score two goals for the team to win so convincingly.
“Twelve goals is a very good stepping stone for what we want to achieve as a team so I think it puts us in good stead for the game against the Solomons,” added Lewis.
Being back in the U-23’s set up is the perfect tonic for Lewis who had to endure a somewhat frustrating stint in England after signing his first professional contract with Scunthorpe United two years ago.
Despite only a handful of first-team appearances, the young All White is adamant he has learnt valuable lessons from his overseas experience.
“Yeah for sure, I think it’s a lot different from what I’m normally used to, but now I’ve upped my game in different aspects, for instance transition wise as well as getting a lot fitter, so it definitely helped me in ways I wasn’t used to and hopefully now I can bring that into my game,” he insisted.
With his renewed focus, and his goal to achieve his Olympic dream, Lewis can’t think of a better place to be than in Fiji with the New Zealand U-23 team.
“I’m loving being back amongst the boys, coming into this environment where we are creating a new cultural identity we have a new way of going about things which really helped myself gain my confidence back so I’m really enjoying my time with this team,” the All White midfielder enthused.