It's do or die for All Whites in South Africa
BY FRED WOODCOCK IN JOHANNESBURG
Fifa World Cup
Here we go, again.
The All Whites were supposedly meant to have had their bags half-packed by now but instead, for the third time in 10 days, they are preparing for the game of their lives at this World Cup.
The 1-1 draw against Slovakia was the sporting highlight of the year for many New Zealanders but that match's status was quickly overtaken by the stunning 1-1 draw with Italy.
Now the do-or-die clash against Paraguay at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane tomorrow morning (2am NZ time) looms as not only the sporting event of the year, but the biggest match to date in New Zealand football history.
Potentially, it could also be one of New Zealand sport's finest hours.
That is dependent on the result of course – a win would see them qualify for the knockout stages – and the task is a daunting one.
Despite the rankings, there has always been a sense Paraguay would be a much tougher proposition than Slovakia and even Italy in group play.
New Zealand, historically, does not match up well against the South American technique, pace and flair and Paraguay offers all those things.
The world's 31st-ranked side, which drew 1-1 with Italy and had a 2-0 win against Slovakia, also offers a physical presence and strength in the air, much like New Zealand.
"It's the battle of the set pieces," All Whites midfielder Simon Elliott declared, and he may just be right.
After all, Paraguay scored 80 per cent of goals during qualifying from corners and freekicks.
"They are the stronger type of team, the Europeans of South America," All Whites coach Ricki Herbert concluded of Gerardo Martino's side.
"They are clever but they can also be a lot more straightforward. But there is nothing to fear, like there was nothing to fear against Italy."
The equation is simple for the All Whites, if there is a result.
Win and they're in; lose and the bags can be packed.
Paraguay are on four points with Italy and New Zealand on two and Slovakia one. Where is gets tricky is if Paraguay and New Zealand, and Italy and Slovakia, draw. Whichever team out of Italy and New Zealand scores the most goals would qualify second.
If both matches were drawn by the same scoreline, the team to progress alongside Paraguay would be drawn out of a hat.
Elliott said the permutations were for the media to speculate on – all the players have on their minds is winning.
Both matches will be played simultaneously, meaning a goal in one match could alter the tactics in the other.
"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," Elliott said. "Win and we go through."
Herbert will go with the same starting lineup and expect similar tactics, too. He has identified a possible weakness in Paraguay's defence and he hopes his big men up front can be effective.
Rory Fallon got penalised out of the Italy game by the officious Guatemalan referee. At times he was at fault, and at other times he was hard done by, but Herbert will not ask him to change.
"He's a powerful boy who's good in the air and we need that physical approach up the top for us," he said.
"I hope we get a referee who is consistent across the board and you'll see he won't get half the fouls against him."
Herbert felt the pressure was all on Paraguay, which could play into New Zealand's hands, but Elliott noted there was also pressure on the All Whites. This bunch of players will never get another opportunity like this.
"The guys have worked hard to be in this position and now that we're here, we've got to make the most of it."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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