Soccer: Nelsen 'gutted' at early departure

By Chris Rattue in Polokwane

Captain Ryan Nelsen said his side was "gutted" at the draw with Paraguay which ended the All Whites' magical World Cup run short of the knockout stage.

Nelsen refused to speculate on his own international future saying he would need more time to reflect. The Blackburn Rovers captain has previously told the Herald he would always want to be involved with the All Whites in some way while he was still playing, but perhaps with a reduced role.

Nelsen also revealed the extent of the savage bug which had laid him low for two days prior to the match in Polokwane, north of Johannesburg. He said it could have been food poisoning.

Nelsen had been vomiting and suffered diarrhoea for two days prior to the match, during which time he could not eat.

He rated himself at only 40 per cent healthy for the match, saying he felt "awful".

The nil-all draw left New Zealand unbeaten and third in Group F, ahead of 2006 champions Italy. It is believed to be only the fourth time an unbeaten side in the group stage had been eliminated.

This represented a staggering achievement by the All Whites, but they failed to find the same desperation in the final match and did not threaten the Paraguay goal enough, even though this had to be their prime objective.

Slovakia's early goal in the simultaneous match against Italy meant the All Whites had to score a goal to progress. But they managed just four shots, none on target, whereas Paraguay launched 17 strikes at goal with five on target.

Nelsen, still looking pale, said: "Just to play in the World Cup - I would have given my left arm for that.

"It is a pretty amazing achievement really.

"But I feel really gutted, disappointed, because I know the whole country had got behind us.

"I just want to say sorry...we were so close but we just didn't get there.

"I just feel absolutely sick - I just wish we could have done a wee bit better. We were so close.

"All the guys are gutted. The support we had has been incredible and we wanted to get the country into the next round."

Nelsen himself would have missed the next round, a second yellow card in the tournament meaning a suspension.

He said the bar had been raised for the All Whites and the country should now press for even better results.

"In four years time a lot of the players will still be around which is really exciting.

"Hopefully you guys will put a bit of pressure on the team to win games, and keep up the high standards.

"The country will want wins in the next games...maybe we can really start succeeding on the world stage."

On the prospect of having missed the first knockout match because of suspension, Nelsen said he wouldn't have cared so long as the team made it.

Illness also seemed to be affecting his thinking.

"I was just happy to be on two feet at the time," he said of his 56th minute booking.

Meanwhile his old Blackburn teammate and good friend Roque Santa Cruz, the man of the match, said New Zealand had been very hard to break down.

He hoped the knockout stages would have a more attacking bent

"They were very difficult to penetrate...they had 11 men in their own half. We did have opportunities but couldn't finish," he said.

"We needed to be more patient. I don't think we will play teams in the next round who only want to defend."

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