Three quick thoughts on Paraguay-New Zealand (World Cup Group F)
Three quick thoughts on Paraguay's 0-0 tie with New Zealand in Group F on Thursday.
1. The All Whites have made history the old-fashioned way. At its last World Cup appearance, in 1982, New Zealand left with three straight defeats and a goal difference of minus-10. In South Africa, it ends unbeaten and with more points than world champion Italy -- a phenomenal achievement given it has a world ranking of 78, four amateur players in the squad and the tournament's lowest-paid coach, Ricki Herbert. If the fates of France and Cameroon, both undone by player power, are a looking-glass into the modern game, New Zealand's achievement is distinctly old-fashioned.
"A group of players who aren't overpaid, who love the shirt, who are rejoicing in the experience and are happy to share their excitement with everyone," ran Thursday's editorial in New Zealand paper The Press. "It's a reminder of what football was about before the gold started falling from the sky."
Herbert, a defender who played in the 1982 campaign, deserves particular credit for its success. He combines this job with coaching Wellington Phoenix (and six All Whites) in Australia's A-League, and has been linked with replacing Pim Verbeek as Australia coach. As captain Ryan Nelsen put it, "Cinderella stories happen and that's why football is the best game in the world."
2. Paraguay needs to work on its forward line. Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino played under Marcelo Bielsa at Newell's Old Boys and is an avowed disciple of the Chile coach, whose team's 4-3-3 formation has lit up the tournament. But while Chile's quick passing and clever movement turn defenses inside-out, the Paraguayan threat was less dangerous Thursday. Martino has four excellent center forwards -- Roque Santa Cruz, Nelson Valdez and Oscar Cardozo started this game, with Lucas Barrios on the bench -- but none are suited to playing wide and too often the build-up play was narrow, with the team reduced to trying its luck from distance. Martino might need to rethink his options for the knockout match against either Denmark or Japan. It's no good having all those prolific strikers if they're not getting any chances.
3. This game won't make any World Cup highlight reels. Every final group game so far has had real drama, but right from the start here neither team played with much urgency. A bit more adventure late could have provided New Zealand with the goal it needed to top the group, but Paraguay goalkeeper Justo Villar did not have a save to make. Italy's shocking defeat propels Paraguay to the top of the group, and though that means it will probably avoid Holland in the next round, you wonder how far it can go if it cannot break down New Zealand's defense, well-drilled as it was.