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

Soccer: All Whites have one shot for glory

By Michael Brown

The All Whites helped devise a marketing campaign before that win over Bahrain last November that talked about One Shot For Glory. Friday morning's World Cup match with Paraguay will redefine that slogan.

Win, and New Zealand will take their place in the second round. It was a prospect few contemplated when this side left the country on their World Cup journey in mid-May but is a very real possibility now. Progressing to the last 16 would be very glorious indeed.

A draw might be enough but that would rely on mathematical permutations going their way and you would expect a wounded Italy to beat Slovakia, leaving New Zealand third behind the Azzurri and Paraguay.

Even though the All Whites drew with Italy, the four-time World Cup winners and defending world champions, they always saw the match against Paraguay as their most difficult of the three pool games.

Historically, New Zealand don't match up well against South and Central American opposition. The country's heaviest defeat was a 7-0 hiding by Uruguay in 1995 (they recovered the following week to record a 2-2 draw) and in more recent times they have been beaten by Chile 4-1, Brazil 4-0 (both 2006), Costa Rica 4-0 and Venezuela 5-0 (both 2007). In March they went down to Mexico 2-0.

They struggle against the skill and speed South Americans possess as opposed to the more physical and structured approach of European opposition but this All Whites side has shown they are a resilient bunch.

Paraguay had an excellent qualifying campaign and finished second equal on points with Chile and just one behind Brazil. They recorded wins over Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela (twice), Colombia and Peru but the pick of them came with a 2-0 defeat of Brazil and 1-0 win over Argentina that confirmed qualification.

The Albirroja (red and whites) had a decent pedigree at World Cups having played in seven previous tournaments and reached the second round three times and they were ranked as high as eight in 2001.

They are clearly a different team to the one that was knocked out of the tournament tamely four years ago.

They have been impressive under Argentinian coach Gerardo Martino, who was appointed in 2007, and are well organised and compact, defend high up the pitch and are more attacking than past Paraguayan sides who were happy to play a defensive style.

Like New Zealand, they are dangerous at set-pieces and have tall timber at the back in the likes of Antolin Alcatraz, who scored in the 1-1 draw with Italy.

"It will be very difficult," All Whites captain Ryan Nelsen said after the 1-1 draw with Italy. "Paraguay are an incredible team. I have already spoken to [former Blackburn teammate] Roque [Santa Cruz] and he is lining us up. It will be fun to play him."

A lot is always expected of Santa Cruz. The Manchester City striker has struggled with injuries in recent years and he played in only five of Paraguay's 18 qualifiers. He still left his mark, however, scoring three goals and his presence at the tournament became even more important when fellow striker Salvador Cabanas, who scored six goals in qualifying, was shot in a bar in Mexico City in January.

The All Whites are expected to play the same starting 11 for the third-straight match and they will also employ the same direct game plan. It plays to their strength with three strikers up front.

There's a real sense of belief within the side that they can pull off, to borrow a phrase from the 1982 All Whites, the Impossible Dream.

"We were written off from day one," Chris Killen said. "We had people laughing at us coming into this competition but I think we have the laugh on them. We will not let it end there. We want to keep going and see how far we can go."

- NZ Herald

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