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Rewind: NZ’s Olympic Qualifier win last year

New Zealand earned their spot in the next Olympics at the qualifying tournament in Fiji last year. Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

New Zealand’s U-23 team produced a dominant performance at the OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifier tournament in 2019 but they may never get to test their wares at the global event.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were meant to take place in July and August but were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Plans are in place for the games to run during similar dates in 2021 but whether they come to fruition is up in the air given the state of the virus around the world.

One of the players in New Zealand’s squad from last year’s qualifiers is Auckland City FC midfielder Clayton Lewis.

If the Tokyo games don’t go ahead, it would mark the second time he would have missed out on the opportunity to attend the Olympics.

The 23-year-old was part of New Zealand’s squad that was disqualified from attending the Rio Olympics in 2016 due to a player eligibility issue.

Lewis now has his sights set on being on the plane to Tokyo, providing the Olympics get the all clear.

“It’s something out of our control, so I’m just hoping that next year it all goes ahead and I’m in the running for that spot to be there, so that’s what I’ll be working towards,” he said.

New Zealand’s national league is in the midst of its off-season and Lewis has spent the winter playing regional football for Auckland United, while doing some coaching with junior players.

Clayton Lewis, centre, singing the national anthem. Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

Last year’s Olympic qualifiers were the catalyst for Lewis rediscovering his love of football following a frustrating two-year spell in England with League Two club Scunthorpe United where he struggled for game time.

He was selected in the New Zealand U-23 side by coach Des Buckingham and enjoyed the experience in Fiji where the Kiwis went through the tournament unbeaten, including a 5-0 victory over the Solomon Islands in the final.

“He rung me before the tournament and said I know the type of player you are, go out and do what we know you can do and just having that kind of coach that believed in me kind of brought it all back,” Lewis said.

“So that was quite a big moment for me.

“It all worked out well; we played some good football, didn’t concede many goals and were able to qualify for the Olympics, so hopefully we are about to go there next year.”

Aside from Lewis there were some impressive individual performances from New Zealand at the qualifying event, which ran from September 21 to October 5 last year, including Myer Bevan who scored a tournament-leading 12 goals.

Myer Bevan in action for the New Zealand U-23 side. Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

The Auckland City striker was prolific throughout the event and Lewis said Bevan’s ability to score goals, while being happy to track back in defence was a rare combination.

“He’s the type of striker that I’d love to have in my team any day.”

Maybe one day next year the pair will take the field together at the Olympics.

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