Chris Rattue at the World Cup
Herald writer Chris Rattue blogs from the Fifa World Cup

Soccer: Elliott focusses on the big result

By Chris Rattue

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The theory is simple, the reality less so.

The All Whites stuck to the age-old line that they would concentrate first on attaining victory, and put the complex mathematical business of qualification scenarios out of mind against Paraguay on Friday morning.

Captain Ryan Nelsen had another check on his ear problem yesterday, leaving midfield supremo Simon Elliott as the senior player at a press gathering in the team's hotel.

Elliott said: "You can't plan for it. We've got staff on the sideline making calls and Ryan and myself will probably have something to say on the pitch if we can.

"But for now it's important to keep it simple. Win and we go through."

Indeed, that is the easiest scenario to follow. Under Fifa's tiebreaker rules though, things could get far more complicated at Polokwane as their Group F rivals Italy and Slovakia meet at the same time, at Ellis Park.

Goal difference and goals scored are the initial ways of splitting tied teams, firstly in the group and then in the matches involving the tied teams. Then lots are drawn.

The All Whites could thus face a variety of situations, where they may have to decide to hold on for a draw, or throw the kitchen sink at Paraguay with a win needed.

The more you allow the mind to delve into the subject, the more tangled it can get. Elliott even joked that the press were better at working out the possibilities.

"That's why you guys are around," said Elliott. "You can come up with all the permutations, but for me it is simple - we win and we go through."

Making it tough for the All Whites, Paraguay only need a draw to ensure they progress, while Italy's inspirational midfielder Andrea Pirlo is back in full training after injury.

Most predictions have Italy beating Slovakia, whereby the All Whites would have to beat Paraguay.

If both games are drawn, goals scored will separate Italy and New Zealand.

"To win, it's going to be very tough," said Elliott. "In terms of a straight match-up, it's a slightly more difficult proposition.

"I guess we are less effective against them because they are such a different team to what we are. Italy and Slovakia are relatively similar in the way they do things, but Paraguay have got that South American flair.

"The teams we've played like that, like Mexico and Chile, where the ball speed is good, we've found it tough to deal with."

They are good on the ground, but Paraguay actually score many of their goals from set pieces. "We saw them play Italy and they scored a very good goal from a set piece.

"They've got flair and style in the locker as well, so we're going to be careful."

But Elliott said there was much more to the All Whites' game than aerial bombardment. He was disappointed with the ball retention and option taking against Italy, especially over the use of the long ball.

"There are certain things [the long ball] about our approach that do cause teams trouble," Elliott said. "We've done it to the last two teams so I don't see any reason why we can't [against Paraguay], but I know there are more strings to our bow.

"We want to keep the ball and try and play. We can't just be reliant on one thing. I think we're better than that and I hope we will be."

The other issue is whether the players on yellow cards - Nelsen, Winston Reid, Rory Fallon, Tommy Smith and Tony Lochhead - are intimidated by the prospect of a second caution, and then missing the first knockout game should New Zealand progress. The card count is only wiped come the semifinals.

"The guys are smart enough to play with a card and still get the job done," Elliott said.

Fallon kept pushing the boundaries with his arms-up aerial style against Italy, was substituted by Ricki Herbert to save his future prospects, and would be in greatest danger. And without the big target man, a major part of their modus operandi would be missing.

On that note, Fifa fined Smith $6340 for tugging at Daniele De Rossi's shirt in the incident which gave Italy their equalising penalty.

Meanwhile, Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz says team spirit has led to their good position.

He said: "The atmosphere is fantastic. We have been playing together for years and we have players who are mentally strong. Our strength is the spirit in the camp, the hard work we put into every game."

- NZ Herald

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