On Friday morning, New Zealand will be playing a football team buoyed by the support of an entire country.

In Paraguay, football is everything - a precious game, a way out and a way up. You need to be blind not to understand the passion, love, heart and soul that is soccer.

It is in everything. In the dusty barrios of the capital, Asuncion, by the cathedral, in the supermarkets, on television and on every street corner people wear the team colours.

Many Paraguayans are puzzled - they thought football was not our game and most knew next to nothing about New Zealand.

I was in Asuncion when we drew with Slovakia - a great result in itself - but yesterday's one-all draw with Italy has totally thrown them.

Still, they think they will beat us, but are too polite to say so.

My visit to Paraguay was very deliberate. This land-locked country of six million, with the oldest colonial-era city on the continent, Asuncion, is one of the most fascinating nations on the continent.

I travelled with little Spanish and alone, and the Paraguayans were more than accommodating. Gesticulation, some blathering, some Spanglish and plenty of goodwill was the basis for conversation - and it worked.

One of their many engaging traits is lack of arrogance combined with a certain pragmatism that comes from being a country that has survived much instability.

They know they will not be in the World Cup final.

But right at this moment, being in with a chance is a reason for daily celebration. They have a phrase that sums up their attitude: "Fureza Paraguay!"

It means "go Paraguay!"

I have now moved on from Paraguay to Brazil, and am mixing with both Brazilians and Argentines - two nations whose teams are considered favourites, although Paraguay have beaten both in qualifying.

There is much shrugging at what the All Whites have done, but it is agreed that the World Cup always produces surprising results.

But if New Zealand can get this far ... perhaps anything is possible.

Know your rival: Paraguay

1. The capital of Paraguay is La Muy Noble y Leal Ciudad de Nuestra Senora Santa Maria de la Asuncion - better known as Asuncion.

2. Paraguay is landlocked but has a navy, with six naval bases and 34 ships. Many of these are almost 100 years old.

3. The Paraguayan cuisine is beef - with everything. Favourites include beef soup, beef soup with dumplings, beef and rice pie, and breaded beef steak.

4. Duelling is legal in Paraguay, as long as both participants are registered blood donors.

5. Paraguayans are a disputatious lot. The authentic version of the country's history varies depending on whether it was written in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Europe, or North America.

6. Between 1904 and 1954, Paraguay had 31 Presidents, most of whom were removed from office by force.

7. William Lane led a utopian socialist commune in Paraguay in the late 19th century. He moved to New Zealand after it collapsed and served as editor of the Herald from 1913 to 1917.

8. Paraguay is ranked as the world's third-largest exporter of chalk boards.

9. The national bird is the Guyra Pong, or bare-throated bellbird.

10. Paraguay won the Olympic silver medal for football in 2004 in Athens, beaten 1-0 by Argentina in the final.

* Angela Griffen is a New Zealander travelling in South America.