Michael Brown at the World Cup
Michael Brown blogs from the Fifa World Cup

'Proud and disappointed' Herbert laments NZ exit

By Michael Brown

It was a result that felt like a defeat. This morning's 0-0 result with Paraguay was the third draw for the All Whites at this tournament and, while that is a momentous achievement and they finished ahead of defending world champions Italy in their group, there was an emptiness in the camp.

They became just the fourth team in World Cup history to be eliminated from pool play without losing a game but the crucial thing here was they were eliminated. This All Whites side set high targets so, while they were proud of what they accomplished in South Africa, it was disappointment that permeated the group.

A win would not only have seen them progress to the final 16 but it would have seen them top the group. The All Whites knew it. Opportunities like this don't come along that often, especially for New Zealand football, and you have to take them when you can.

The players and coaching staff stood on the pitch for nearly 15 minutes after the match acknowledging the travelling fans at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane. There were a few smiles but they largely struggled to hide their dejection.

"It was quite an emotional night for us," coach Ricki Herbert said afterwards.

"If you can be proud and disappointed at the same time, I'm not sure how you can put them together.

"To come through this World Cup now unbeaten... It was incredible tonight. We were resolute and tough against a team that is right up there again and they really struggled to penetrate. I'm disappointed but no one is prouder than me of what this team has achieved.

"Can you get any closer? A lot of people thought we shouldn't be here and we had amateurs in the team who weren't good enough. I think that argument is dead and buried now. Who knows? We may go closer in the future but I think to go away unbeaten will be pretty hard to beat.

"I probably have to pinch myself. If you are going to exit the World Cup, there are good ways and not so good ways of doing it. You can read the list tomorrow. Italy, France; they are all sitting behind us. I think we are a good shot to finish in the top 24 in the world."

That is some achievement and they have been widely acknowledged as one of the stories of the tournament. Countries with just 25 professional players don't go through group play unbeaten at a World Cup.

They were once again resolute in defence against Paraguay, and goalkeeper Mark Paston and his back three of Ryan Nelsen, Winston Reid and Tommy Smith were excellent, but New Zealand created very little in attack. They couldn't get a flow of possession and the long balls to the strikers were largely nullified by the Paraguayan defence.

Simon Elliott had the side's best chance early in the second half but his shot from the edge of the area sailed over the crossbar. They had just four shots in total, none of which were on target. Paraguay has 17 shots, with five on target.

Herbert admitted they needed to measure attack with defence against Paraguay.

"A draw might have been enough for us tonight, depending on how the other result went," he said. "We were guessing a bit.

"I think it was really important for us to be in the match and stay in the match for as long as possible. I'm delighted with what the guys have done. We went to the bench with all the attackers we could.

"I think it's really great now that we are talking about beating teams like Paraguay. It's just fantastic. We will never go through another World Cup unbeaten."

They might but that would be something else to celebrate because it would mean New Zealand were not only at another World Cup but also competing.

This team has shown it can be done and, for that reason, we shouldn't think too much about what might have been but about what was.

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