New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert admits there will be plenty of nerves in tonight's potential history-making FIFA World Cup™ clash against Paraguay.
A draw could be enough to put the All Whites into the second round, providing Italy versus Slovakia finishes in a lower-scoring draw, for the first time. Having produced increasingly impressive performances in draws against Slovakia and defending champions Italy, the team has captured the imagination of not only the public back home but has won admirers around the world.
There have been suggestions that, should Herbert's side achieve what would have been unthinkable prior to the tournament and qualify for the last 16, there should be a public holiday in New Zealand. The coach said he and his players were well aware of how their exploits had been received by fellow Kiwis and they would be as nervous as their compatriots when they walked out at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane.
"We are going to go through the wringer too. can only say the heart will be on the sleeve and the performance will be as much as we can possibly give. If it is good enough to take us through - fantastic. If not then we will still be proud. The players are relaxed but confident," he said.
Herbert said their previous two results may have raised expectations but he was just trying to keep the side focused on the task in hand. "I wouldn't say we have become more ambitious but what the match does is present us with an opportunity. It will be tough but all our games have been tough so far and we have managed to get something from them," he added.
Paraguay need a point themselves to guarantee their place in the knockout phase. Coach Gerardo Martino's side have earned plaudits for their style of play, as have a number of the Latin American sides, and he dismissed suggestions this FIFA World Cup was boring and full of negative play.
"It is quite similar to other World Cups. You always hear the same voices saying there is too much defensive football and too few goals - I am sure we will be hearing this in the future as well. People are never going to be happy with the type of football they are seeing," he said.