AUCKLAND (Reuters) - New Zealand Football (NZF) maintain they went by the book in ensuring all members of their men’s under-23 team were eligible to play in Oceania’s Olympic qualifying competition, the organisation’s chief executive has said.
Following a protest from Vanuatu, New Zealand were expelled from the qualifying final on Sunday after an Oceania Football Confederation disciplinary committee ruled defender Deklan Wynne, who was born in South Africa, was ineligible.
Vanuatu had been beaten by New Zealand in the semi-finals but the OFC awarded them the victory following the protest.
Fiji went on to beat Vanuatu on penalties to advance to next year’s Rio Olympics, but the decision provoked an angry response from NZF, who have said they would appeal.
“We believe we’d done what we were asked to,” NZF Chief Executive Andy Martin told reporters in Auckland on Tuesday, adding that the NZF completed eligibility forms for each player for the tournament at the Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea.
“We believed we were fully compliant and acted in good faith.”
No red flags had been raised about Wynne’s eligibility before the Games, which was run in conjunction with the Olympic qualifying tournament, Martin said.
Wynne, who played for New Zealand in the under-20 World Cup on home soil in May and June, had his passport and birth certificate checked before the FIFA tournament and was able to play.
NZF would continue with their appeal, Martin added.
World governing body FIFA have already said they would not intervene and the decision remained with the OFC. [ID:nL4N0ZT54V]
Wynne, who has also appeared for the full New Zealand team, arrived back with the under-23 squad late on Monday and said he had the full support of his team mates and NZF.
“It is quite tough, but there’s not much I can do about it,” Wynne, who emigrated to New Zealand with his family as a teenager, told media at Auckland airport.
”I‘m just really disappointed. But I have the backing of the boys and NZF have got my best interests at heart so I just have trust in them.
”The players have been great. They are all behind me and have kept my spirit up which has helped me a lot.
“I love playing for New Zealand and I want to keep playing for New Zealand in the future.”
Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford