24 Jun 2010

Paraguay or paradise? It's the moment of truth

9:25 pm on 24 June 2010

The All Whites go into their final World Cup pool game in South Africa early on Friday morning in a position few New Zealanders would ever have imagined possible - with a very real chance of qualifying for the final 16.

A win against Paraguay will take them into the next round, a proposition that wouldn't have got many takers before the tournament began.

Even a draw might be enough, depending on the result of the other game in group F, between Italy and Slovakia.

It's an astonishing achievement that one of the lowest-ranked teams in the tournament has got even this far, holding both higher-ranked Slovakia and reigning World Cup champions Italy to 1-1 draws.

Prime Minister John Key said on Thursday that the All Whites had already played with enormous pride at the Cup and that a win against Paraguay was still a possibility.

Not superstitious about being in black

Coach Ricki Herbert says the side is very positive and confident and has nothing to lose.

The players will be wearing black, because Paraguay's chosen strip is red and white, but Herbert says he's not superstitious about the All Whites not being in their usual strip.

No one underrates the Paraguayans, who have played with great flair so far and have yet to be beaten at the tournament - though it's worth remembering that the All Whites themselves are unbeaten in their last five games.

The game is the 750th to be played at a World Cup tournament since the competition began in 1930.