Michael Brown at the World Cup

Michael Brown blogs from the Fifa World Cup

All Whites' World Cup dream ends

All Whites 0 Paraguay 0

All Whites coach Ricki Herbert consoles Winston Reid after this morning’s draw against Paraguay. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Whites coach Ricki Herbert consoles Winston Reid after this morning’s draw against Paraguay. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It's said things come in threes and, sadly, it happened for the All Whites.

They secured their draw at this World Cup this morning but, crucially, couldn't secure the win they needed to progress to the second round. With Slovakia's defeat of Italy, they finished third in their group and must now head home.

The dream is over for New Zealand and it's time to wake up.

The All Whites' run at the World Cup was one of the most wonderful rides in New Zealand sports history and there is no disgrace in going out of the tournament in the manner they did.

They go home undefeated - who picked that before the tournament - and put New Zealand football on the map. Some people around the world might now know exactly where on that map New Zealand is.

They also finished ahead of defending world champions Italy and showed that a small country at the bottom of the world with only a handful of professionals can compete with the giants of world football. It's just a shame they can't have a go at another one.

"Everybody played well, they all contributed on the highest level," said coach Ricki Herbert. "It's our second time at the World Cup and to completely reverse what we've done before is quite amazing. The future looks bright for the team."

"It's quite emotional for us," Herbert said. "We are proud and disappointed at the same time now. We remained unbeaten but are still eliminated. I am proud, and no one takes away from me what we have done here. Not many more teams played as attacking as us with three strikers."

"It was a very hard match, but in the end it was the most important thing to qualify," Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino said. "We had many problems in our attack today, to get through their defence. But the result is in our favour."

For the third-straight match the All Whites were extremely difficult to break down, marshalled superbly by Ryan Nelsen. The All Whites skipper could hardly move 24 hours earlier and missed training because of a stomach complaint.

He might now find this morning's result even more difficult to stomach. It's more painful when you get close.

The All Whites, though, couldn't find the goal that would take them through. In truth, they didn't really come close and Paraguay's defence was as stingy as New Zealand's.

It wasn't a great spectacle but the tension meant it was compelling. One mistake or moment of genius could decide this match and, ultimately, the group.

Every nerve, every sinew was being tested. New Zealand don't usually play under this sort of pressure.

Paraguay had clearly done their homework on Rory Fallon, the most heavily penalised player at this World Cup, and followed Italy's lead by clutching at their face whenever he contested a ball. Often Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura ruled in Paraguay's favour. He wasn't Carlos Batres but Nelsen was not amused and had words with him at halftime.

Nelsen really should have been a little happier. Statistics showed Paraguay had lost their last three World Cup matches when the score was 0-0 at the break. It was destiny, right?

Slovakia were also leading 1-0 in the other match, which meant, if things stayed the same at Ellis Park, New Zealand could top the group if they won. Surely not?

The All Whites looked more purposeful after the break and Simon Elliott had a good opportunity to open the scoring but blazed his shot from the edge of the area over the bar. It was as close as they got.

They had a greater share of possession and were crisper in their passing but the anxiety levels increased as the game wore on.

The first came in the 56th minute when Nelsen was shown a yellow card for tripping former Blackburn team-mate Roque Santa Cruz which meant he would miss the next match if New Zealand got through. It was a big if.

Mark Paston made a good reflex save to deny Cristian Riveros and Nelsen blocked the follow-up shot that was goalbound.

Paston made another brilliant save when he clawed the ball away from the toes of Lucas Barrios when the substitute seemed destined to score, slapped away the danger with Santa Cruz bearing down on goal and punched a Santa Cruz to safety.

The Wellington Phoenix goalkeeper has had a wonderful tournament and it wouldn't be a surprise if some club tapped him on the shoulder. They would do worse than recruit the 33-year-old.

Although Paraguay were threatening, the All Whites were still only one moment away from progressing.

But they couldn't find it. They came so close, so close, to making a truly remarkable statement and that is a triumph in itself.

At the end they stood around in a daze. Instead they should have looked back on some great days.

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