New Zealand U-23 striker-turned-defender Noah Billingsley wants nothing more than add next year’s Tokyo Games to his footballing resume, after helping his side to the Saturday’s final of the OFC Men’s Qualifier tournament at Lautoka’s Churchill Park.
One of five All Whites in Des Buckingham’s squad alongside, Clayton Lewis, Myer Bevan, Logan Rogerson and Liberato Cacace, the 22-year-old right-back has been enoying every minute of his side’s campaign in Fiji so far and can’t wait for the title decider to come.
“It’s been really fun, Des has created a really good environment here and I have really enjoyed it, a lot of the guys I either didn’t know very well or haven’t met before, but it’s like being here with a bunch of friends and obviously getting to the final with them has been amazing,” he said.
The former striker, who was part of the New Zealand’s 2017 U-20 FIFA World Cup adventure in South Korea, has made the transition to a defensive role last year while playing for his college club UC Santa Barbara in the United States.
“I’ve been there for three years now, I have one more year there and I play right-back for my team there, I’m the captain of the team playimg alongside Hunter (Ashworth) who is also here.
“At first I was a little bit in shock, I’ve never seem myself as a defender but I’ve grown to really like the position, and I think it’s a position I can do really well in the future and I think I’m settling into it quite nicely, but it’s early days yet, but if I can go from striker to right-back, I can go from right-back to centre-back to goalkeeper, who knows where I will be in year, but it’s fun,” he laughed.
Despite his more defensive role Billingsley did manage to get on the scoresheet in New Zealand’s 4-2 win over the Solomon Islands during the group stages, but he is adamant that will mean nothing when they face their Melanesian rivals in Saturday’s rematch for Oceania’s only spot for next year’s Games.
“The Solomons are quite short compared to our team, we are a big team so it was good for me to get up with a header and score there but they are a very good team and we are not going to underestimate them, just because we beat them once it doesn’t mean it will be an easy ride so we are preparing well and we are all excited,” Billingsley explained.
“It should be a good game, they were good team when we played in them in the first time, it’s nice to almost know what to expect but who knows it’s football and anyone can do well on the day,” he added.
With just one more win away from a place in the Olympics, the New Zealanders are doing all they can to contain their excitement but Billingsley admits securing qualification would be very special.
“That would amazing, it’s something I’ve dreamt about ever since I was young, when you turn on the TV during the Olympics and it’s amazing, and to be part of it would be a dream come true,” said the U-23 New Zealand right-back.