High-flyer: Former Queenstowner Willem Ebbinge 
 jumps Fiji's Sterling Vasconcellos during the OFC men's Olympic qualifier final. PICTURE: GETTY

Playing a key part in securing qualification for the New Zealand under-23 men’s football team at next year’s Olympics was one of the ‘‘proudest moments’’ of a former Queenstowner’s life.

Willem Ebbinge’s classy midfield control was to the fore as the OlyWhites thumped Fiji 9-0 in the final of the Oceania qualifying tournament at North Harbour Stadium last Saturday to book NZ’s place at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

‘‘Having my parents and younger brother come up [from their Queenstown home] to watch the final after having played football away from home for 10 years made it extra special,’’ Ebbinge tells Mountain Scene.

Ebbinge featured strongly throughout the qualifying tournament, captaining the team in a man-of-the-match performance in its first-up 3-1 win over Fiji on August 30 before setting the platform for the 8-0 demolition of Vanuatu in the semi-final last Wednesday.

He flew back to the US this week to contest his fourth and final season of college football for Harvard University.

The economics and psychology major is one of a number of overseas internationals recruited to play for the prestigious uni’s top ‘varsity’ team in the Ivy League.

‘‘I can’t wait to arrive back on campus and head straight into in-season competition.

The team has already played three games and performed well, so it will be an exciting project to be involved in over the next few months.’’

Ebbinge was 10 when his family moved from Auckland to the resort and he began playing for the Queenstown Football Club’s juniors.

Despite leaving the district to board at Wellington’s Scots College as a 13-year-old, Ebbinge says the Basin’s still home and he gets back to play for the Queenstown Rovers whenever his schedule permits.

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