Even fairytales come to an end. But despite New Zealand's World Cup exit, their story - full of gutsy heroes and a sprinkling of magic - has a happy conclusion.

In the company of the world's greatest football nations, three draws is a stunning achievement.

The statistics are inadequate to reveal what this team has done for itself, for football and for a South Pacific nation of 4.5 million people.

In the Peter Mokaba stadium, New Zealand could not find the goal that would have carried them to the last 16.

In truth, they were rarely in this match against a superior Paraguay. The South Americans dominated possession, but every attempt to go forward was repelled by a wall of black.

For the football purists it was a dismal spectacle. But a World Cup is not always about quality football.

The All Whites fans played their part, as always. They didn't join the Mexican wave. They were already standing, stepping nervously from foot to foot, and biting finger nails.

There was even room for a sense of humour. One sign held up by fans read: "The All Whites: as many World Cup finals as Spain."

One bare-chested fan had a message scrawled on his chest: "Someone stole my NZ shirt."

The Paraguayans were also there to enjoy the occasion. "New Zealand stick to rugby. Viva Paraguay," read a sign.

With 25 minutes left on the clock the sun began to set. It was hard not to see it as the sun setting on New Zealand's World Cup.

The fans were urging their heroes on as time ticked by. Only a win would do and Kiwis were desperate for the charge of the All White brigade.

Given what this team has achieved it seemed churlish to expect more.

But expect more we did, given the previous games.

Sadly, it was not to be, yet the journey home will be one of celebration.

The All Whites confounded the critics with their performances and let a little bit of magic creep into a tournament dominated by unsavoury headlines - the French team collapsing amid in-fighting and the England team being savaged for poor performances.

Cynicism was suspended as a rag-tag squad, including amateurs and players without clubs, footed it with the multi-millionaires of the European and South American leagues.

Winston Reid's header in the dying seconds against Slovakia will stay in the memory for years to come.

Similarly, it will be hard not to relive over and over Shane Smeltz's toe-poke against Italy which put us on top of the world for 22 minutes.

But it was Ricki Herbert's organisation and a powerful defence led by Ryan Nelsen which carried the All Whites through this tournament of unprecedented success.

This is not the end, but a new beginning. Brazil 2014.