New Zealand-Belarus Preview

New Zealand-Belarus Preview

Published Jul. 25, 2012 12:21 p.m. ET

Two nations with little history in major competitions meet Thursday night at the City of Coventry Stadium in England in a Group C encounter between Belarus and New Zealand.

Belarus has qualified for the finals of a major tournament for the first time after finishing third in the UEFA under-21 championships in Denmark last year. Egor Filipenko's goal in the 88th minute lifted Belarus past the Czech Republic 1-0 in the third-place match.

"It was a very prestigious thing for football in Belarus and for the country itself to reach a tournament like the Olympic Games," coach Georgi Kondratiev told

New Zealand, champion of Oceania, is making its second straight Olympic appearance after finishing at the bottom of Group C four years ago in Beijing with two defeats and a draw against host nation China.


There are signs football is improving in New Zealand - the senior team made its second World Cup appearance two years ago in South Africa and was the lone team in the tournament to finish with an unbeaten mark with three draws.

This tournament holds special meaning for New Zealand's coach since Neil Emblen is an Englishman.

Emblen is more concerned about what his team can produce in the Olympics after it lost twice and drew once in three warm-up matches. New Zealand's final match before the event was a 4-2 defeat to the United Arab Emirates last Friday.

"We have six days before the opening game so we'll have five full days of preparation and will really be able to get into preparing for specific scenarios which we haven't really had time to do yet," Emblen told New Zealand's official football website.

The overage players for New Zealand are Ryan Nelsen, Shane Smeltz and Michael McGlinchey. Nelsen plays in the English Premier League with Queens Park Rangers while McGlinchey represented Scotland in his youth days before switching to New Zealand.

New Zealand has received good news since midfielder Adam McGeorge (hamstring) and defender Tim Myers (virus) have returned to training after each missed two of the three warm-up matches.

Belarus arrived in England early to post a 10-1 warm-up victory over the Amateur Football Alliance on Sunday.

The Belorussians have six players from BATE Borisov, the top club in their country that reached the Champions League group stage last season.

"We don't have any key players like other teams do, but we trust our togetherness as a group, our team spirit on the pitch, in the changing rooms, in the hotel and in any situation, anywhere," Kondratiev said.

Brazil and Egypt are the other teams in Group C, and Kondratiev believes his team has a chance to finish in second behind the Brazilians.

"I think Brazil are the favourites of course," he said. "But otherwise I think we're at the same level as New Zealand and Egypt."