Neil Emblen has been inundated with ‘see you back in London’ messages after overseeing New Zealand’s qualification for this summer’s Olympic football tournament.
The Kiwis became the 13th side to book their place when they emerged as Oceania representatives by beating Fiji 1-0 in their regional final yesterday.
“Pleased as!” the former Wolves player smiled. “It wasn’t a spectacle of football. It was more of an 11-on-11 scrap, to be fair.
“The boys stepped up and matched Fiji for the scrap because we thought they could be better at that than us. We thought we’d have more quality than them but it wasn’t the day for quality football.”
Emblen has been head coach of the triumphant ‘Oly Whites’ squad during qualifying and is hoping to be handed a summer return home for the tournament itself as the side join a line-up already including Spain, Brazil, Uruguay, Egypt, Gabon, Morocco, Belarus, Switzerland, Korea Republic, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and hosts Great Britain.
Bobby Gould’s son Jonathan, who has held similar positions in the New Zealand set-up, was among the first to send his congratulations. “Savour every minute,” he said. “You’ll have the time of your life.”
And Emblen’s former Molineux team-mate Brian Law posted on Facebook: “Congrats my friend! Excellent job. So pleased for you.”
The decisive goal in Taupo, on New Zealand’s North Island, came from a 17th minute Greg Draper penalty. The 23-year-old striker has scored 23 goals this season for The New Saints in the Wales Premier League.
Two players in the squad were from Waitakere United, the club with whom Emblen serves as player-coach, while others are based in the United States and Australia, as well as New Zealand.
The Kiwis faced Papua New Guinea and Tonga in their Oceania group and beat Vanuatu 3-2 in the semi-final.
In London, teams will be able to add three over-age players to what are otherwise under-23 squads.
Emblen’s emergence in coaching and management continues an extraordinary trend among the 1990s Wolves sides he featured in.
From the players he joined when he was signed by Graham Taylor from Millwall in the summer of 1994, Mike Stowell, Darren Ferguson, Peter Shirtliff, Kevin Keen, David Kelly, Mark Venus and Paul Cook have also all progressed to senior positions in the dug-out.