Michael Brown at the World Cup

Michael Brown blogs from the Fifa World Cup

Soccer: All Whites regroup for Paraguay clash

By Michael Brown in Johannesburg

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All Whites defender Tony Lochhead is amazed at the level of interest the side has received since their shock draw with Italy. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Whites defender Tony Lochhead is amazed at the level of interest the side has received since their shock draw with Italy. Photo / Brett Phibbs

If Tony Lochhead didn't know the impact of what the All Whites had achieved against Italy, he found out when he checked his emails and Facebook messages.

The All Whites flew back from Nelspruit to their base on the outskirts of Johannesburg immediately after their historic 1-1 draw with Italy and Lochhead couldn't resist checking his messages.

"I think it will take a few days, even longer, for it to really sink in," the 28-year-old said the morning after the night before. "It's a pretty good feeling to know we drew with the fifth best team in the world and at a World Cup. I don't think there would have been too many people who would have predicted that.

"At the moment, we're mentally and physically fatigued. It was a pretty big effort from the guys. In that second half, we did a lot of defending.

"But when you get back to base and you check your emails, and check what's going on back home, it shows how big it is.

Everyone is really buzzing over the result.

"I got home and there were probably about 100 emails and Facebook messages. When I jumped on again this morning, there were another 50 or 60. They just keep rolling through. There are some people I don't know. They want to add you as a friend. There were even quite a few Italian people who wanted to add me as a friend. They thought we were great. That was pretty special."

What would be even more special, however, would be qualifying for the second round. It would be an incredible achievement - and one that would rate as the biggest upset of the World Cup so far - but they are just a win away from taking a place in the last 16. A draw might be enough but the permutations don't really bare thinking about.

A wounded Italy will surely beat Slovakia and they will progress if New Zealand fail to beat Paraguay. If they were to draw with Slovakia and the All Whites recorded their third draw of the tournament, it would mean Paraguay would top the group and New Zealand and Italy would go to a countback.

At the moment, neither can be separated on points, goal difference and goals scored and conceded and if that situation remains, the second team to progress will be decided by the drawing of lots.

Lochhead hopes it doesn't come to that. It's never been done before at a World Cup but was used in 1954 to decide whether Turkey or Spain qualified. Turkey pulled the long straw.

"We're not through at all," Lochhead said. "We still have to get a result and pretty much need to win to get through. We might get lucky if we draw it but we want to win.

"Paraguay beat Slovakia 2-0 and they looked pretty good so it's going to be another big ask. But I think the confidence and belief in the team is pretty high at the moment."

It ought to be. Although the players won't admit it, they have probably surprised themselves with what they have achieved not only in South Africa but over the past month with the win over Serbia and draws with Slovakia and Italy.

There is a resilience about them rarely seen by All Whites sides of the recent past. They keep their shape well, are difficult to break down and also carve out opportunities of their own.

That's why their struggles against South and Central American sides over the past five years are largely irrelevant. In 2006, Lochhead was part of an All Whites side well beaten by Chile (4-1) and Brazil (4-0). He was also there following year when they went down to Costa Rica (4-0) and Venezuela (5-0).

"They seem to play a different style and everyone is very comfortable on the ball," he said. "European teams are pretty structured, like us. They play a 4-4-2 and will stick to that formation but players in South American sides could play at right-back and all of a sudden crop up at left-back or up front."

It will be difficult to contain but, as this All Whites side have already shown, nothing is impossible.

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