Michael Boxall, a sophomore on the UCSB men’s soccer team, will play for the New Zealand team that will represent his home country at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Olympic men’s soccer play gets under way Thursday, one day ahead of the opening ceremonies.

Boxall, who hails from Auckland on the North Island of New Zealand, will suit up for the Thai Airlines Oly-Whites, the country’s U-23 national team. The Oly-Whites qualified for a trip to Beijing after going five-for-five in qualifying matches in March in Fiji.

New Zealand will be competing in Group C along with China, Belgium and powerhouse Brazil. The Oly-Whites will open play against host China on Thursday.

A 6-foot-2, 200-pound defender, Boxall tallied a goal for New Zealand during a match against Chile in July. Down 2-0 in the first half, Boxall headed in a corner kick in the 38th minute to get the Oly-Whites within one, which is where the score stayed until the final whistle.

Boxall played in 12 matches with 10 starts for UCSB in 2007 before a knee injury knocked him out for the rest of the season. In his 10 starts, Gaucho opponents were limited to eight goals.

Men’s soccer, officially referred to as football in Olympic play, was the first team sport included in the Olympic Games. Since 1908, the sport has been held at every Olympics with the exception of 1932 in Los Angeles. It was introduced as an exhibition sport in 1900.

Sixteen men’s teams are qualified for this year’s Olympics:

» Group A: Cote D’Ivoire, Argentina, Australia, Serbia.

» Group B: Netherlands, Nigeria, Japan, United States.

» Group C: China, New Zealand, Brazil, Belgium.

» Group D: Republic of Korea, Cameroon, Honduras, Italy.

Scott Flanders is UCSB‘s associate media relations director.