Chris Rattue at the World Cup

Herald writer Chris Rattue blogs from the Fifa World Cup

All Whites exit World Cup as heroes

By Chris Rattue in Polokwane

All Whites striker Rory Fallon breaks down in tears after the final whistle against Paraguay this morning. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Whites striker Rory Fallon breaks down in tears after the final whistle against Paraguay this morning. Photo / Brett Phibbs

New Zealand was awoken early today by the brilliant All Whites' World Cup campaign but the dream of winning through to the next round is over.

The All Whites are out of the Cup after a draw with Paraguay.

If they "won" their previous two encounters against Slovakia and Italy 1-all, they "lost" nil-all early today.

They will now disperse, rightfully proud of their historic achievement of gaining three World Cup points.

They have made the country proud and excited Kiwis' imaginations.

The incredible tension of the occasion kept this morning's game alive, and the Kiwis had amazing late chances as the crowd noise hit incredible levels.

The game might not have old men still salivating in their armchairs in years to come, though. The All Whites weren't good enough to open the game up and Paraguay, needing only a draw, were too good at closing it down, although the second half had the odd thrill.

Coach Ricki Herbert said: "I'm just so proud of these guys - to go out unbeaten at a World Cup. Will that ever happen again? I doubt it."

Hail the fabulous Ryan Nelsen and his brave men for what they achieved in South Africa. They may have changed the face of New Zealand sport and given us all a wonderful ride and new heroes to admire.

But that won't extend to saying that everything was rosy in the garden.

The game was not exactly scintillating, a diet of fouls and free kicks interrupting the flow. Nelsen and Roque Santa Cruz both made representations to Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura as the players left the field.

We in the stands also felt like making representations for a better game. The World Cup does this to the world game at times, and to better teams than the ones on the Peter Mokaba Stadium.

The mind was busy on two fronts. Slovakia's early goal against Italy meant the All Whites had to score if they were to progress to the last 16. And that didn't look very likely, with only the skill of Simon Elliott and Shane Smeltz offering hope.

Call it pressure. Call it tiredness. Call it a hangover from two glorious results. Call it what you like. The world game isn't always the spectacle the grandiose World Cup tournament pretends that it to be.

Paraguay played most of the best football at Polokwane. They best nullified New Zealand's aerial game by not allowing them to settle on the ball.

Paraguay were like large buzzing bees around the honeypot, flying in numbers to put pressure on the All Whites in possession. To use a rugby league phrase, they gang-tackled.

Two, three, four Paraguay players would hurtle in, especially early on.

Ricki Herbert's analysts knew before they got to South Africa that the Paraguay way of operating involved trying to win the ball back the split second they lost it.

A player like Argentina's Lionel Messi can rise above the soccer scramble, if that is the right phrase for a bloke who barely rises above a lot of players' shoulders. Messi comes from another sporting planet than this morning's game, though.

- NZ Herald

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