Slovenia put a halt to the All Whites' momentum this morning with a convincing 3-1 win in Maribor.
Goals to Andraz Kirm and a brace to Germany-based Milivoje Novakovic were enough to cancel out a Rory Fallon strike with all four goals coming inside 45 minutes.
Although his free kicks made the difference, Novakovic may be better plying his trade in Hollywood after a disastrous decision in which Winston Reid was judged to infringe the Slovenian striker, despite the replay showing a totally different story.
Coming off two promising games against Australia and Serbia, Ricki Herbert's charges were given a much tougher assignment from Slovenia, whose short passing game and movement was in stark contrast to the static Serbians the week before.
After falling behind in the first half, New Zealand were able to find their feet in the second spell and created a number of good scoring opportunities.
And while the result was disappointing, I expect the coaching staff will be reasonably happy the players were able to change their game in the second half, whereas Slovenia were not as fluent as in the first.
One area that does concern me is at times we can be too conservative, particularly out of midfield.
There were a number of times, especially in the second half, where we won the ball in the middle but failed to spring forward. We seem to take the safer option and either go backwards or sideways.
Now this can be for a number of reasons; the supporting players are too deep, lack of pace in certain areas and a ball retention attitude over a risk taking option. The latter may suit our players but I do think at times we can become predictable, particularly when Rory Fallon is leading the line by himself.
Jeremy Brockie and Shane Smeltz offer a point of difference in attack and it is around those players that we need to have a contingency plan to route one of Fallon and Chris Killen.
What is also evident is that our wider players, who occupy a more defensive role due to the 3-4-3 formation, need to offer a wider outlet in the attacking half. Both Tony Lochhead and Leo Bertos ventured past the centre line on a few occasions today and got a couple of very good crosses into the box.
Another interesting factor was the use of the bench. Herbert said publicly before the match that he would give his bench players a run. However, only Jeremy Brockie, in an Aaron Clapham shirt, made his way onto the pitch.
Players will want to play in every match but there is the bigger picture to look at in the shape of Slovakia on June 15.
There was evidence that the team that started this morning, with the exception of Chris Killen, will be the 11 that will line up for the opening game of the World Cup. It has a very settled look to it but my only question is who will partner Ryan Nelsen in the back three? Both Tommy Smith and Winston Reid have been outstanding in the last two matches but Ivan Vicelich and Ben Sigmund have not put a foot wrong either. Does Herbert play the latter in the last warm-up game against Chile or persevere with the younger Smith and Reid?
We should also not forget the glaring spotlight in goal if Mark Paston gets injured. With Glen Moss suspended until the final group game against Paraguay, it leaves third choice 'keeper James Bannatyne as Herbert's only option. Bannatyne has not featured at all of late and it would be a massive ask for the Team Wellington custodian to pull the gloves on against Slovakia or world champions Italy after occupying the bench in the lead up. There's no doubt he would relish the opportunity but he would also benefit a lot more with a hit out with Nelsen and co in front of him.
There's only so much you can replicate in training. The occasion itself, the crowd, the pressure, the atmosphere you can only get from matches.By Harry Ngata Email Harry